Italy’s Left May Have to Let Berlusconi into Coalition

Pier Luigi Bersani may have to do a deal with conservatives if he wants to become premier.

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 has ruled out forging a government with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservatives but lacking a working majority in the Senate, he may have little other choice.

Bersani’s Partito Democratico won a majority of the seats in the lower chamber of parliament in February’s election but not the upper chamber where Berlusconi’s right-wing alliance holds almost as many seats. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement has 54 senators who could give Bersani the necessary majority to form a leftist government.

The movement’s leader Beppe Grillo had ruled out formally joining a coalition, however. He could support individual policy proposals but is unlikely to give Bersani the confidence votes he needs to become premier.

That leaves Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà and its separatist ally Lega Nord. The former urged the left on Monday to join a grand coalition. In return for supporting a government led by Bersani, Berlusconi wants a conservative elected president in April and his party’s secretary Angelino Alfano to become deputy prime minister.

Italy’s three biggest trade unions also called on Bersani to form a government “at any cost” to avoid reelections. Similar demands have come from the nation’s employers’ association.

Both likely recognize that in the event of new elections, Grillo’s party will do well, making it even harder for the established parties to form a majority government. In case the Five Star Movement, which appeals to Italians frustrated with their political class’ apparent ineptitude and corruption, wins a majority, it might even 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, equivalent to 127 percent of gross domestic product last year.

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 Florence mayor Matteo Renzi told Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper earlier this month that if the Partito Democratico had been willing to “talk to disillusioned center-right voters” who again opted for Berlusconi instead, seeing little alternative, “perhaps we would have won the election.”

Renzi won 40 percent of the votes in a primary election against Bersani late 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 in new elections with Renzi. A recent SWG survey proved them right. It showed 28 percent of Italians backing Renzi for the prime ministership compared with 14 percent for Bersani and 13 for Grillo.

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