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POLITICS

Italy’s shattered Democratic Party tries to bounce back

Tens of thousands of Italians rallied in Rome on Sunday for the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) as it seeks to rebound from a shock defeat to a populist coalition in June.

Italy's shattered Democratic Party tries to bounce back
The PD's rebound rally in Piazza del Popolo in Rome. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

A banner deployed in the Piazza del Popolo, or 'people's plaza', declared that those present represented “The Italy that is not afraid”.

The nation is on the frontline of the European Union's struggle to stem migration from Africa and the Middle East, and it roiled financial markets last week when the new government appeared to ditch a stringent public deficit target in favour of increased spending to honour a key electoral pledge.

“We are in the presence of irresponsible [leaders] and ne'er-do-wells,” exclaimed former PD leader and Italian premier Matteo Renzi in reference to the heads of a government now comprised of the anti-system Five Star Movement and the hard-right League.


Former PD leader and prime minister Matteo Renzi speaks to the crowd. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Current PD Secretary General Maurizio Martina claimed that Italy's new leaders were “obsessed with finding an enemy rather than a solution.”

The PD is in dire need of a solution itself meanwhile, having slid from a stunning victory in 2013 through a string of defeats to the final blow in March when it recorded its worst-ever result, winning just 18.7 percent of the vote in a general election. Along the way it lost control of cities such as Rome, Turin, Venice and Genoa, a traditional stronghold.

Renzi resigned but that has not stopped the party from losing support.

“There is a risk it could sink even further,” political scientist Roberto D'Alimonte at the Italian Centre for Electoral Studies (CISE) told AFP. “We are living in unstable times, it is hard to forecast” what might happen next, he added.

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According to CISE surveys, the PD has lost much of its traditional base, concerned by economic inequality and illegal migration, and become a party that represents the upper middle class.

As for Renzi, who still wields considerable influence within the party, he has become “a bit like Silvio Berlusconi for Forza Italia, a burden” that is pulling it downwards, D'Alimonte said.

The daily La Repubblica wrote that the PD offered “the spectacle of a party on its last legs, with leaders tearing each other apart against a background of alternating, chaotic theories” on how to bounce back.

A recent opinion poll credited the party with around 16 percent support.

At the rally on Sunday, Martina declared: “We need a new PD for a new left,” while the crowd responded with cries of “Unity, unity!”


PD Secretary General Maurizio Martina. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

By AFP's Ljubomir Milasin

ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.

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