Tag Archives: fassina

Italian left threatens to upend Renzi plans to continue leading Democratic Party

Matteo Renzi (left) is facing a challenge from justice minister Andrea Orlando (right) for the leadership of the Democratic Party, but that’s the least of the Italian left’s worries these days. (Facebook)

The message from former prime minister Matteo Renzi to the Italian left couldn’t be more clear:

Unite or die.

Unfortunately for Renzi, who hopes to regain the leadership of the center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) and lead it to victory in the next Italian election, no one seems to be listening to him.

Even worse, it is Renzi’s my-way-or-the-highway leadership style and his continued insistence on personally leading the Italian left in the next election that has forced such a severe schism inside a party that has struggled since its foundation a decade ago to bridge a divide that spans Catholic social conservatives to outright democratic socialists.

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RELATED: What to expect from Italy’s new government

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In the span of just 10 days, Renzi’s heavy-handed approach — designed to entrench him as the Democratic Party leader — has instead launched a fresh leadership contest (with yet another preliminary struggle over the timing of the contest). More ominously, a breakaway faction split from the party over the weekend to form a new group, the Movimento Democratico e Progressista (MDP, Democratic and Progressive Movement) that could drain the Democratic Party of crucial support in the next election. The new group already claims nearly 40 deputies in the lower house of the Italian parliament and 20 senators in the upper house.

There’s still time for a rapprochement. 

The faction-ridden Democrats have always struggled with unity, but there’s a real chance that the centrosinistra‘s continued inability to unite in 2017 (and Renzi’s inability to win over skeptics) could tilt Italy’s next government to anti-EU populists.

With the traditional Italian centrodestra (‘center-right’) divided and weak in the post-Berlusconi era, unless the broad centrosinistra (‘center-left’) finds a way to heal the wounds, the infighting could allow the anti-austerity, eurosceptic and increasingly illiberal protest movement, the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement), to win the next Italian elections. Those elections must be held before May 2018.
Continue reading Italian left threatens to upend Renzi plans to continue leading Democratic Party

Renzi brings down Letta government, expected to become PM


Just two months into his leadership of Italy’s main center-left party, the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), Florence mayor Matteo Renzi has found a way to balance his criticism of prime minister Enrico Letta’s government against the notion that he’s working against Letta, a former deputy leader of his own party.Italy Flag Icon

He’s decided that it will simply be easier to lead Italy’s government himself — and the past four saves have played out dramatically as Renzi engineered the collapse of Letta’s government.

Initially, Renzi’s gambit looks like it’s going to work.  The Democratic Party national leadership backed Renzi’s plan almost unanimously after a meeting earlier Thursday, where Renzi argued that the party must ‘uscire dalla palude‘ (‘get out of the swamp’) to effect change in Italy.

Letta will resign as prime minister tomorrow.

As a formal matter, Italian president Giorgio Napolitano will consult with the leaders of all of Italy’s political parties about forming a new government, but the outcome seems almost certain.  Renzi, at age 39, will become the youngest prime minister in Italian history, taking over essentially where Letta leaves off.

It’s an audacious and skilled move. It’s one part Giulio Andreotti (note Renzi’s mastery of internal PD politics).  It’s one part Silvio Berlusconi (note Renzi’s mastery of the kind of political theater it takes to wage a successful campaign against your own party’s government).  It’s also one part Michael Corelone — Renzi showed this week he has the ruthlessness to pull the trigger when it counts.  (Can you imagine what British policy might look like today if former foreign minister David Miliband had the same instincts five years ago?)

Renzi expects to form a government that includes the Democratic Party, the centrist Scelta Civica (SC, Civic Choice), a group of reform-minded moderates that supported former prime minister Mario Monti, and the Nuovo Centrodestra (NCD, the ‘New Center-Right’), a breakaway faction from former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s rechristened Forza Italia.  That’s the same coalition that Letta led, with the same strengths and shortcomings.

Renzi says he’ll seek a government through the end of the current parliamentary term, which ends in 2018.   Continue reading Renzi brings down Letta government, expected to become PM

Renzi, Berlusconi team up for electoral law pact


Italian politics just got a lot more complicated.Italy Flag Icon

Over the weekend, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of Italy’s largest center-right party, Forza Italia, and Matteo Renzi, the leader of Italy’s largest center-left party, the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), joined forces (pictured above) to introduce the blueprint for a new electoral law.

Notably, the deal didn’t include input from prime minister Enrico Letta, a moderate who leads a fragile ‘grand coalition’ government that includes not just his own Democratic Party, but centrists close to former technocratic prime minister Mario Monti and one of Italy’s two main center-right blocs, the Nuovo Centrodestra (NCD, the ‘New Center-Right’), led by deputy prime minister and interior minister Angelino Alfano.  The Alfano bloc split two months ago from Berlusconi’s newly rechristened Forza Italia, which pulled its support from the Letta government at the same time.

The deal is a political masterstroke by Renzi because it makes him appear to have stolen the initiative from Italy’s prime minister.  Letta formed a government in May 2013 with the two priority goals of passing a new election law and deeper economic reforms.  Despite a ruling in December 2013 that Italy’s current elections law is unconstitutional, Letta’s government has not yet put forward an alternative acceptable to the three main groups in the coalition.  So the Renzi-Berlusconi deal is now the only concrete proposal — it backs up the talk that Renzi, the 39-year-old Florence mayor, will be a man of action in Italian politics.  Renzi won the party’s leadership in a contest in November 2013 over token opposition.  Renzi is neither a minister in Letta’s cabinet nor a member of the Italian parliament, and he’s been more of a critic of the current government than a supporter of a prime minister who until recently was the deputy leader of Renzi’s own party.

By way of background (those familiar can skip the following three paragraphs):

Italy has gone through a few different electoral systems, but most of them have featured either closed-list or only partially open-list proportional representation.  Reforms in 1991 and 1993 transformed the previous system in what’s informally been called Italy’s first republic, which spanned the postwar period until the collapse of the dominant Democrazia Cristiana (DC, Christian Democracy) in a series of bribery and corruption scandals collectively known as Tangentopoli (‘Bribesville’).  But the current system dates to 2005, when Berlusconi ushered in a new law that everyone (including Roberto Calderoli, who introduced the 2005 legislation) now agrees is awful and which Italy’s Corte costituzionale has now invalidated.

The current law, which governed Italy’s elections in 2006, 2008 and 2013, provides for a national proportional representation system to determine the 630 members of the lower house, the Camera die Deputati (Chamber of Deputies).  The party (or coalition) that wins the greatest number of votes nationwide wins a ‘bonus’ that gives it control of 55% of the lower house’s seats, not unlike the Greek electoral system.  But the 315 members of the upper house, the Senato (Senate), are determined on a regional PR basis — the top party/coalition in each of Italy’s 20 regions wins 55% of the region’s seats.  That means, however, that one party/coalition can hold a majority in the lower house, but wield much less than a majority in the upper house.

That’s the exact situation in which Italy found itself after the February 2013 elections, when the Democratic Party and its allies in the centrosinistra (center-left) coalition narrowly edged out Berlusconi’s centrodestra (center-right) coalition.  Beppe Grillo’s protest Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement) followed closely behind in third place.  It meant that while the Italian left controlled the Chamber of Deputies, it couldn’t muster a majority in the Senate.  After a three-month political crisis that ended with the inability to elect a new Italian president (Italy’s parliament ultimately decided to reelect the 88-year-old Giorgio Napolitano to an unprecedented second seven-year term), the Democratic Party’s leader Pier Luigi Bersani resigned, and Napolitano invited Letta to form Italy’s current government.

The Renzi-Berlusconi deal sketches out an electoral reform on roughly the following lines:

  • The Chamber of Deputies would become, by far, the predominant chamber of Italian lawmaking.  The Senate would hold fewer powers as a region-based chamber.  Italy’s national government would also consolidate more powers away from Italy’s regions.
  • Deputies would be elected, as they are now, on the basis of national, closed-list proportional representation, which concentrates power in the hands of party leaders and elites (as opposed to open-list, which would allow voters to choose the members that represent them in parliament).  An alternative might be something akin to the proportional aspect of the Spanish electoral system — in Italy, it would mean a proportional system divided into 118 constituencies, each of which elects four or five deputies.
  • If a party/coalition wins over 35% of the vote, it will still yield a ‘majority bonus’ of either 53% or 54% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies.  If no party/coalition wins over 35%,  the top two parties/coalitions will hold a runoff to determine who wins the majority bonus.
  • Italy would introduce a threshold for parties in order to reduce the fragmentation of Italy’s politics — a party running outside a coalition would need to win 8% of the vote and a party running inside a coalition would need to win 4% or 5% of the vote running outside a coalition (though the thresholds would be much lower in a multi-district ‘semi-Spanish’ system).
  • The deal would not replicate the French system, which elects legislators to single-member districts in a two-round election, and which has been discussed often as an alternative for Italy.

The details are not so important at this stage, because they could change as the Renzi-Berlusconi deal begins the long process of turning into legislation.  But if Renzi can pull the majority of the Democratic Party along, and if Berlusconi’s Forza Italia supports the deal, the two groups could steamroll Italy’s smaller parties, even in the Senate.  If Alfano and his bloc joins, the deal would be unstoppable.  Renzi has already won a majority of the party’s executive committee (a promising first sign), and Alfano has indicated that he’s open to the reform (though less excited about closed lists).

But there are all sorts of fallout effects — politically, legally and electorally — to contemplate over the coming days and weeks. Continue reading Renzi, Berlusconi team up for electoral law pact

In dismissing Fassina, Italy’s Renzi marks his ‘Sister Souljah’ moment


In US politics, the ‘Sister Souljah’ moment dates from the 1992 presidential campaign when Bill Clinton, then the young governor of Arkansas, repudiated the words of a prominent hip-hop emcee and activist (Sister Souljah) by comparing her words to those of prominent white supremacist David Duke.  In scolding her, Clinton distanced himself from African-American civil rights activist and former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, thereby signaling his willingness to stand up to Jackson and the various interest groups that then dominated the Democratic Party.  Italy Flag Icon

Since 1992 the moniker has been applied to any situation where a politician rebukes extreme statements or views most associated with that politician’s own political party or identity.

So it was in Italy last week when the new leader of Italy’s center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), Florence mayor Matteo Renzi caused a rift on the Italian left that precipitated the resignation of deputy finance minister Stefano Fassina from Italy’s beleaguered coalition government.

Fassina resigned after Renzi dismissed his calls for a cabinet reshuffle.  When asked about Fassina’s proposal by the press, a swaggering Renzi responded with a simple, ‘Chi?’ (Who?).  It was a stark reminder that Renzi intends to drag Italy’s main leftist party to more centrist ground in the same way that Clinton pulled the Democrats to the middle in the 1990s and that Tony Blair pulled the Labour Party in the United Kingdom.

It’s a calculated bet, not without some risk, that Renzi can slap down his leftist flank (presumably expanding his appeal to moderate voters) without alienating the left so much that he causes the Democratic Party to crumble.

Fassina represents the socialist-left wing of the Democratic Party that Renzi now leads, after winning the leadership contest in December 2013 against token opposition with 68% of the vote.  Renzi’s coronation, however, obscures the real fissures within the Democratic Party.  In the contest to determine the prime ministerial candidate of the Italian centrosinistra (center-left) in November 2012, former PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani bested Renzi in December 2012 by a whopping margin of 61.1% to 38.8%.

Fassina, as a member of the current grand coalition government headed by prime minster Enrico Letta,  has been incredibly skeptical of spending cuts and other forms of budget austerity.  Fassina is the most well-known of a small group of rising leftists known as the Giovani Turchi (‘Young Turks’) within the party that want to pull it further to the social democratic left, a group that also includes Matteo Orfini and environmental minister Andrea Orlando.  That’s not necessarily a bad space to occupy in Italian politics — it’s a tradition that pulls both from the humanism of the historical Italian left and the Catholic social teaching of the historical Italian right.

But the Young Turks are just one of many factions that comprise the Democratic Party, which itself represents a two-decade struggle to redefine the Italian left — the party is now comprised of over a dozen fiefdoms, including the so-called ‘renziani‘ who support the Florence mayor.   Continue reading In dismissing Fassina, Italy’s Renzi marks his ‘Sister Souljah’ moment