Italian Left Restless After Disappointing Election Result

Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani’s former rival criticizes his efforts in forming a government.

Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence, confers with Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of Italy's left-wing Partito Democratico, in Palermo, February 20
Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence, confers with Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of Italy’s left-wing Partito Democratico, in Palermo, February 20 (Ilaria Prilli)

Florence mayor Matteo Renzi on Saturday questioned his party’s leader Pier Luigi Bersani’s attempts to form a government in Italy less than a month after the left failed to secure a majority in both houses of parliament.

Bersani’s Partito Democratico won a majority of the seats in the lower chamber of parliament in February’s election but not the Senate where former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing alliance claimed nearly as many seats. Bersani has ruled out a grand coalition with the conservatives, however, and courted former comedian and political activist Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement instead with a promise to present a program that his members could support.

Days after the election, Grillo rejected any “talk of alliances” and described Bersani as a “dead man talking” who had the “arrogance” to ask for his support after berating him during the campaign.

But Grillo also said, “We’re not against the world” and promised to work with any party that adopts his proposals which range from anti-graft legislation to green energy policies.

In a television interview on Saturday, Renzi criticized his party leader for offering lawmakers from the Five Star Movement positions of power and tempting them to change sides rather than challenging them with convincing policy proposals of his own.

Earlier in the week, Renzi had told Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper that “with some of my ideas, starting with the willingness to talk to disillusioned center-right voters,” many of whom lined up behind Berlusconi once again last month, “perhaps we would have won the election.”

Renzi, a social liberal, challenged former Communist Party member Bersani for the party leadership late last year when he won 40 percent of the votes in a primary election. He is considered the frontrunner to succeed Bersani if the latter doesn’t manage to form a government and become prime minister.

On Saturday, Renzi suggested that there should be another leadership primary if the Five Star Movement refuses to enter a coalition and reelections are needed.

An SWG survey released on Friday showed 28 percent of Italian voters backing Renzi for the prime ministership compared with 14 percent for Bersani and 13 for Grillo. Berlusconi won 10 percent in the poll and incumbent premier Mario Monti 6.

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