Who will be the next leader of the Italian Democratic party?

By Francesco Rocchetti
24 March 2017
Italy Italy
Even with a general election on the horizon, the infighting in the PD looks far from over
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The Italian centre left is experiencing an unprecedented moment of change. Despite being in power since 2013 and having given birth to its third government in December, its voters are struggling to follow an internal fight that seems far from over. Last month, a consistent group of MPs abandoned the Democratic party (PD) to create a new and more leftist force, Movimento Democratico e Progressista (MDP), accusing Matteo Renzi of turning the party into a personalised and too centrist force.

This secession could be labelled as unimportant, if it wasn’t for two things. The first one is the magnitude, because the new party, composed by the members of the leftwing dissenting minority of the PD, can already count on 38 members in the lower house and 14 in the upper house. The second is that among the splitters there are two former leaders of the PD, Pierluigi Bersani and former prime minister Massimo D’Alema, who have repeatedly expressed their aversion towards Renzi’s leadership. According to the polls, MDP is set to steal a substantial number of votes (about 4%) from the PD and therefore influence its political agenda in a foreseen alliance for the next general election, to be held in 2018.

The proliferation of new parties is linked to the outcome of last December’s referendum and the new electoral law that, after a number of corrections made by the constitutional court, is likely to create a proportional system, where many small political factions will have the chance of winning seats in the parliament and influence in the political system.

A large number of parties, too many stakeholders, a fractured left, and the centre as a kingmaker: it seems a replication of any Italian election of the 1970s.

In this situation, the former leader of the PD launched a new leadership contest. Matteo Renzi, the Puglia governor Michele Emiliano, and the current minister of justice Andrea Orlando are the three competitors, and they truly represent three important sections of the party.

Matteo Renzi is trying to reassert his control over the party, give new force to its project and ask for a renewed legitimacy. The Matteo Renzi running for the leadership now is a more mindful politician, representing the PD establishment, with a clear majority within the party and an elementary agenda to present to its people: the ambition of becoming the next prime minister of Italy. His votes will come not only form his political enclave, the more centrist wing of the party, but also from many members of the party that, over time, adhered to his political platform.

Michele Emiliano was supposed to leave the party together with Massimo D’Alema and Pierluigi Bersani but with he unexpectedly stepped back and launched his candidacy as next party’s leader. However, he has a residual role in these primary elections and he is working on harvesting votes in the southern regions.

Andrea Orlando is a more insidious rival for Renzi. Besides counting on a vast number of supporters and a solid structure, especially in the north of the country, he is backed up at political level by Giorgio Napolitano, the former president, as well as the left wing of the party. He is a true connoisseur of the party and its political logic. Even though he will probably not be able to win over Matteo Renzi, he represents the attempt of restoring a shared leadership, with shared and not divisive values, proposing a traditional political platform. Andrea Orlando wants a smart positioning of the party in the political spectrum, thinking ahead to the next general elections, to be held in one year, where the Five Star Movement is likely to become the most popular party in terms of vote share and a grand coalition will be probably needed.