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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Political cheat sheet: What to know about Italy’s Democratic Party

Italy's second-biggest political party was in power until 2018, but looks unlikely to return in the next election. Here's a look at the party's history and policies.

Political cheat sheet: What to know about Italy's Democratic Party
Enrico Letta, head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), at an interview with AFP in Rome on July 29th, 2022. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

As Italy’s general election nears, The Local is publishing a series of articles introducing the key parties and political figures you need to know about.

READ ALSO: What election promises have Italy’s political parties made so far?

Here’s a quick guide to Italy’s second-biggest party, the Partito Democratico (Democratic Party, or PD), its history, policies, support, and key figures.

Origins

The Democratic Party (PD) is relatively young, founded in late 2007. Like most of Italy’s other major parties, the reason the PD was only formed quite recently is due to a massive corruption trial known as Mani Pulite (Clean Hands). or tangentopoli, in the early 1990s, which rocked the political establishment and led to a major shake-up of key players.

PD was formed in its aftermath to unite a wide range of left-wing and centre-left parties, with founding members including former Communists and former Christian Democrats.

Italy had a PD-led government between 2013 and 2018, headed by three different prime ministers from the party; Enrico Letta, Matteo Renzi, and Paolo Gentiloni.

The party brings together a broad range of political groups, and as such, its short history has been fractious. Most notably, a group of left-wing rebels including current health minister Roberto Speranza left the party to form their own in 2017, and former party leader Renzi left to form Italia Viva in 2018, which is now running against PD in the 2022 elections.

The logo of the Italian Democratic Party (PD) pictured on the facade of its headquarters in downtown Rome. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Ideology

The ideology of the Democratic Party can be hard to pin down due to the party’s broad nature, but is inspired by social democracy. 

As the name suggests, it draws inspiration from the American Democratic Party: ex-PM and former party leader Matteo Renzi was one of Barack Obama’s closest international allies, and the party’s first ever leader, Walter Veltroni, has been described as ‘Italy’s Obama’.

The PD is pro-Europe and has traditionally had a liberal attitude towards migration, though its leaders have promoted stricter immigration policies in recent years.

READ ALSO: Italian elections: What are the main parties’ policies for foreigners?

The party’s current manifesto also promotes national and social cohesion, moderate social liberalism, green issues, and progressive taxation.

Support

The Democratic Party still enjoys fairly strong support nationwide, though this has waned over the past five years.

In 2017, PD ran 15 out of 20 of the country’s regional governments. It now controls five regions, which is still the most of any one party.

Ahead of September elections, the party is currently polling at about 22-23 percent of the vote, and is expected to take around 28-29 percent as part of a broad left-wing coalition. 

While this makes PD the country’s second-biggest party in terms of voter share, it is not expected to be nearly enough to stop the right-wing coalition from winning by a landslide.

Big names:

Enrico Letta

The PD’s current leader, Enrico Letta served as Prime Minister of Italy from April 2013 to February 2014, leading a grand coalition of centre-left and centre-right parties.

Former academic Letta was one of the senior founding members of the Democratic Party in 2007, and in 2009 was elected as its deputy leader.

Italy's former Prime minister Enrico Letta has warned a victory by Italy's hard-right coalition represents a 'big risk' to the EU.

PD leader and former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP.

Dario Franceschini 

Italy’s outgoing culture minister and a former PD leader is also an award-winning author and lawyer, and is considered one of the movers and shakers of the party. He’ll stand as a parliamentary candidate, also in Naples, in the 2022 election.

Roberto Gualtieri

Former economy minister Gualtieri was elected PD mayor of Rome in October 2021 and is widely seen as a safe pair of hands.

A trained historian whose only known extravagance is a love for playing Brazilian music on the guitar, he served in government during 2019-2021, and was previously head of the European Parliament’s economic affairs committee.

Elly Schlein

She’s not technically a member of the PD, but 37-year-old US-Italian national Elly Schlein might be the party’s best hope of widening its support in this election.

Social justice advocate Schlein worked on campaigns for former US President Barack Obama and is a former deputy in the European Parliament. She gained national attention in Italy two and a half years ago when she played a key role in blocking the right from taking power in her region, Emilia-Romagna.

PD leader Enrico Letta has made Schlein more prominent in campaigning in hopes of reaching undecided and younger voters, though she is running as an independent candidate on the PD’s Democratic and Progressive Italy list.

BEGINNER’S GUIDES TO ITALY’S MAIN PARTIES 

ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Doubts rise over ‘loose cannon’ Salvini after Italy’s election

Italian anti-immigrant leader Matteo Salvini was disappointed on Monday at his party's result in general elections but pledged to work with Giorgia Meloni, who triumphed, to form a government.

Doubts rise over 'loose cannon' Salvini after Italy's election

Whether Salvini would keep his word – or survive politically long enough to do so – was not clear, after his anti-immigrant League party dropped below the 10 percent threshold at Sunday’s vote.

This was a sharp decrease after the party swept to office with 17 percent of the vote in 2018 – since when it has been eclipsed by Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy.

EXPLAINED: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

A glum Salvini, who has clashed with Meloni on a range of policies, not least her stance on Russia and the war in Ukraine, told reporters that winning just nine percent had been a blow.

It was “not a number I wanted or worked for”, he said.

Salvini added that he had “gone to bed fairly pissed off but woke up ready to go” and was now “looking on the bright side”.

Meloni “was good. We will work together for a long time”, he promised.

Leader of Italy's liberal-conservative party Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Italy's conservative party Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni and leader of Italy's far-right League party, Matteo Salvini acknowledge supporters at the end of a joint rally against the government on October 19, 2019 in Rome.

Italy’s right-wing coalition, consisting of Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, Salvini’s League and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, has promised to slash taxes and put ‘Italians first’. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

The League may now have to battle to ensure its priorities are not sidelined in Meloni’s government programme, analysts said.

And while ex-interior minister Salvini has repeatedly said he wants his former job back, it is looking increasingly unlikely to happen.

“It won’t be an easy relationship. It’s likely that (Salvini) will be given a more marginal role in the government than he wants,” Sofia Ventura, political sciences professor at Bologna University, told the foreign press association in Rome.

“The result… throws into question Matteo Salvini’s leadership” of his own party, she said, adding that there were those within the League who thought they would be better off without the “loose cannon”.

READ ALSO: Meloni, Salvini, Berlusconi: The key figures in Italy’s likely new government

He said Meloni had benefited from being the only leader to stay outside the coalition formed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi in February 2021.

For the League, being part of that administration “was not easy”, he said, but insisted “I would do it again.”

‘Dangerous when cornered’

Meloni secured around 26 percent of the vote in Sunday’s poll, putting her on course to become the first woman to serve as Italian prime minister.

She campaigned as part of a coalition including Salvini’s League and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which won around eight percent.

Italian politics is notoriously unstable, with nearly 70 governments since 1946, and there were concerns disagreements with Salvini may precipitate a fresh crisis.

Lorenzo Pregliasco, co-founder of the YouTrend polling site, said Italian party leaders proved “dangerous” when they felt cornered.

The League head “might not create any problems in the short term” but “watch out for the Salvini factor, if he survives politically as a leader”.

Salvini however said that after years of unwieldy coalitions, Italy finally had “a government chosen by its citizens, with a clear majority” in both houses of parliament.

And he hoped it could “go for at least five years straight, without changes, without upheavals, focusing on things to do”.

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