After months of disputes and threats, members of the left wing of the Social Democratic ruling party have turned their words into deeds. Last weekend, leading dissidents from the left wing of the PD broke with their old party and formed a new one, “The Progressive and Democratic Movement”. The founders of this renegade splinter group include Enrico Rossi and Roberto Speranza – both presidents of their respective regions of Tuscany and Apulia. The background to their split with the PD is their strong rejection of the leadership style of the former prime minister and (although seeking re-election) former PD secretary, Matteo Renzi. His wish for the general election to be brought forward in the hope that he could again ascend the throne of government and his departure from Social Democratic values set some left wingers in the PD against him.
The split in the left wing of the party factually weakens the Social Democrats. Estimates suggest that it could cost the PD around five percentage points in support. Moreover, the leftist populist Five Star movement (M5S), which is currently running neck and neck with the PD, could establish itself as the strongest political force with roughly one third of the vote. However, whether the M5S would also succeed in wooing partners to form a majority government is anything but certain.
The Social Democrats must now focus on consolidating their forces. They will have an opportunity to this end on 30 April – when the new party secretary gets elected. There, Renzi has a good chance of being re-elected, as to date there is a lack of promising alternative candidates. However, other possible rivals have until 6 March to throw their hats in the ring. The late date significantly reduces the prospects of a new general election at the earliest possible date and thus before the parliamentary summer recess. Additionally weakened now by the split by the left wing, Renzi will no doubt be hindered even more strongly than before in pressing for fast elections, as he has to fear further resistance within his party. The theoretically next possible date for general elections would thus slip back to the second half of the year, meaning the official end of the legislative period in February 2018 would no longer be that far off. Ultimately, the trench warfare among the Social Democrats could turn out to be much ado about nothing, with losers on all sides.