Italy: Socialists split

Yesterday, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned from office as Chairman of PD, the Social Democratic party. Renzi is however planning to stand for election again, at a party conference he will himself convene in April or May. In other words, he wants to legitimate his claims to the leadership and his desire to bring forward new general elections – as Renzi evidently has his sights set on returning to the throne of government. However, an open power struggle for the leadership and direction of the PD could ultimately weaken the Social Democratic party: A group of Renzi critics are threatening to split from the party.

With Renzi’s resignation as prime minister at the end of last year, the troublemakers on the left wing of the Social Democrats started exploiting his weakened position to openly criticize him and question his leadership. The critics, which include Enrico Rossi and Michele Emiliano (the one president of the region of Tuscany, the other that of Apulia) accuse Renzi of moving too far away from his Social Democratic roots. They demand that the party more strongly champion social welfare and combat social injustice. They also strictly reject new elections being brought forward.

In the event that Renzi should continue to press for an early general election, they intend to turn their backs on the Social Democratic party, which originally arose from an alliance of Communists and Christian Democrats. Estimates assume that such a split would rob the PD of some five percent of the vote, which would significantly weaken it. Moreover, in this way the left-wing populist Five Star movement (M5S), which is currently neck to neck in the polls with the PD, would emerge as the strongest political force holding roughly one third of the vote. Whether the M5S would then also succeed in wooing partners for a governing majority is, however, anything but sure.

The prospects of Renzi again running for Chairman of the PD and thus emerging as its candidate for prime minister are good, despite his defeat in the referendum on reforming the senate, as there are no clear alternative consensus candidates. Renzi will, however, need the full support of the Social Democrats in the coming elections and may therefore compromise with those challenging him within the party by not insisting the election be called until the scheduled date in February 2018. Ultimately, the resistance by the renegade Social Democrats has led to the probability of a general election in the summer appreciably dwindling. This insight will presumably be greeted by the capital markets at least with relief as the 2017 super election year in Euroland, the Brexit debate and the US administration already create enough political uncertainty.

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