Party secretary Pier Luigi Bersani has been nominated as the Italian left’s prime ministerial candidate. His challenger, Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, got just 40 percent of the votes.
Bersani, a former communist who served as minister for economic development in the country’s last left-wing government, emerged as the frontrunner from last week’s first voting round, despite a study showing Renzi to be the more viable general election candidate.
Bersani is popular on the left, but only 35 percent of Italian voters support him compared to 44 percent for Renzi.
With former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservatives down in the polls and incumbent prime minister Mario Monti set to step down next year, the left has a clear opportunity to win back control of the government.
Bersani has vowed to stick to the budget commitments made by Monti but wants to soften the impact of austerity on workers and the poor.
Italy’s unemployment rate stood at over 11 percent in October. Its public debt is equivalent to 126 percent of gross domestic product.
Renzi, who embraces labor reforms and calls for a comprehensive overhaul of the Italian political system, accused the older generation of Democratic Party leaders of failing to present a credible alternative, which he believes allowed Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition to govern for so many years.
Parliamentary elections may be called as early as March. Surveys put support for Berlusconi’s party at just over 18 percent against 25 percent for the left.
Comedian Beppe Grillo’s Euroskeptic Five Star Movement gets 20 percent, which would make his the second largest party.