Italy’s Left May Have to Let Berlusconi into Coalition

Pier Luigi Bersani may have no choice but to do a deal with the conservatives if he wants to become prime minister.

Secretary of the Italian Partito Democratico Pier Luigi Bersani speaks in Turin, Piedmont, August 28, 2010
Secretary of the Italian Partito Democratico Pier Luigi Bersani speaks in Turin, Piedmont, August 28, 2010 (Francesca Minonne)

Italy’s left-wing leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, may have little choice but to go back on his word and form a government with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservatives.

Bersani’s Democratic Party won a majority of the seats in the lower chamber of parliament in February but not in the upper chamber, where Berlusconi’s right-wing alliance holds almost as many seats.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement could also give Bersani a majority, but its leader, Beppe Grillo, had ruled out joining any coalition.

Berlusconi’s terms

That leaves Berlusconi. He has two conditions for supporting a Democratic-led government:

  1. The left’s support for electing a conservative president in April.
  2. Angelino Alfano, Berlusconi’s deputy, to become deputy prime minister.

Fear of the Five Stars

Italy’s three largest trade unions have urged Bersani to form a government “at any cost”. Similar demands have come from employers.

Both recognize that Grillo’s party could do better in snap elections, making it even harder for the established parties to form a government.

In case the Five Star Movement wins an absolutely majority, it might take the country out of the euro. That could deal a deathblow to Italy, which depends on the European Central Bank to borrow affordably and service its debt.

Renzi waiting in the wings

Finally, Bersani has a personal interest in avoid reelections.

His inability to form a government has already drawn criticism from socially liberal members of his party. The popular mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, has told Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper that if the Democrats had been willing to “talk to disillusioned center-right voters” who again opted for Berlusconi instead, “perhaps we would have won the election.”

Renzi won 40 percent of the votes in a primary election against Bersani last year. If the latter doesn’t succeed in forming a government, he could be pushed out by centrists who believe they stand a better chance with Renzi.

A recent SWG survey found 28 percent of Italians backing Renzi for the prime ministership against 14 percent for Bersani and 13 percent for Grillo.

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