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Europe

Italy’s centre-left picks Bersani as PM candidate

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-12-03

Italy’s centre-left chose 61-year-old Pier Luigi Bersani (photo) over his 37-year-old rival, Matteo Renzi, to run against a right-wing contender in next year’s general election. Bersani won by a huge margin according to exit polls.

Pier Luigi Bersani, the head of Italy’s main center-left Democratic Party, won a runoff primary Sunday to be the main center-left candidate for Italy’s 2013 general elections – a vote that polls indicate could well be won by the Democratic Party given the utter disarray of the opposing center-right.

Preliminary results gave Bersani 61.5 percent of the vote compared to Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi’s 38.5 percent, with nearly 19 percent of the precincts counted.

Even before the results were released, Renzi conceded the victory to Bersani in a Twitter message, writing: “It was the right thing to try, it was beautiful to do it together. Thank you all from the heart.”

The primary had been closely watched since the Democratic Party has a significant lead in the polls over former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom party, which has been in chaos following the media mogul’s 2011 downfall, a series of corruption scandals within party ranks and Berlusconi’s indecision over whether to run for a fourth term.

The 2013 general election – expected in March or April – will decide if Italy continues on the same path to financial health charted by Premier Mario Monti, appointed last year to save Italy from a Greek-style debt crisis. The former European commissioner was named to head a technical government after international markets lost confidence in then-premier Berlusconi’s ability to reign in Italy’s public debt and push through structural reforms.

Nearly all polls projected Bersani would beat Renzi, who campaigned on an Obama-style “Let’s change Italy now” mantra that attracted many disgruntled Italians back to politics.

But even in defeat, Renzi won a victory of sorts for having changed the Italian left. Renzi’s perceived conservative leanings, while alienating the left’s hard-core communists, attracted Italians young and old.

“Even if he loses, as I think he will, he had an important renovation function within the party,” Rome resident Pietro Marucci said Sunday as he voted for Renzi.

Renzi’s style – moving around Italy in a motor home to meet crowds, addressing supporters in just a shirt and tie, no jacket – attracted quite a following and drew inevitable comparisons to President Barack Obama.

But some analysts said he was simply not yet ready for the job of running Italy, and that his relaxed, fresh approach to politics isn’t what Italy needs as it navigates through a grinding recession and near-record high unemployment and tries to tackle its enormous public debt of ¤2 trillion ($2.5 trillion).

“Italy certainly badly needs new faces, fresh faces,” commentator Massimo Franco said. “But I think that between Renzi and Bersani, the big problem is also experience.”

Berlusconi had largely stayed out of the public spotlight for the past year – until recent weeks, when he announced he was thinking about running again, then changed his mind, then threatened to bring down Monti’s government, and then went silent about his political plans.

His waffling has thrown his People of Freedom party into disarray, disrupting its own plans for a primary.

A poll published Friday gave the Democratic Party 30 percent of the vote if the election were held now, compared with 19.5 percent for the upstart populist movement of comic Beppe Grillo. Berlusconi’s party was in third with 14.3 percent. The poll, by the SWG firm for state-run RAI 3, surveyed 5,000 voting-age adults by telephone between Nov. 26 and 28. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points.

It’s been quite a turnabout both for Berlusconi’s once-dominant movement and the Democratic Party, which had been in shambles for years, unable to capitalize on Berlusconi’s professional and personal failings.

Another unknown is Monti’s political future. He has ruled out running for office but has said he would be willing to stay on in some capacity if he could be of service. Some commentators have floated the idea of Monti taking over the largely ceremonial role as Italian president, while others say his talents would put to better use as treasury minister.

(AP)

Date created : 2012-12-02

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