Election campaign in Italy: three-way battle in the left camp

The Italian left is divided, the right could triumph. Workers often feel no longer represented by the left.


Enrico Letta, President of the Partito Democratico on September 14 in Rome Photo: Vincenzo Nuzzolese/imago

ROME taz | Enrico Letta is traveling in the e-bus in the last two weeks before the parliamentary elections on September 25 in Italy. Letta, chairman of the moderately left-wing Partito Democratico (PD), wants the right-wing alliance to almost certainly win in the final spurt of the election campaign Post-fascist Giorgia Meloni impede. But his bus of all things stands for the opposite.

Because the vehicle is traveling at a maximum of 70 kilometers per hour, only short stages are possible, then the batteries have to be charged. The journey leads over country roads – the motorways are avoided. Snail's pace instead of sprint: things are not going smoothly for the PD and its boss Enrico Letta.

Even the initial situation could not have been less favorable for the centre-left camp: The right occurs united, in an alliance of Meloni's Fratelli d'Italia, Matteo Salvini's Lega and Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia. They can expect about 45 to 48 percent of the votes.

There are just as many votes for the opposing forces left of center - but this camp is divided twice. First and foremost would be the PD, according to polls they can hope for 20 to 22 percent of the vote. She can also count on small lists allied to her: on the Sinistra Italiana (Italian Left), which is running together with the Greens, and the mini-party +Europe of former EU Commissioner Emma Bonino, fighting for civil rights. But they cannot bring more than around six percent with them.

An alliance between PD and M5S "impossible"

On the other hand, the Movimento5Stelle (M5S – 5 Star Movement) is no longer a partner. The PD and M5S had been in government together since September 2019, first under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, then in the emergency coalition under Mario Draghi. Together they wanted to defy the right with a "progressive alliance." But things broke in July when Conte – now head of the Five Stars – refused to trust Draghi, and with it the overthrow of the government and initiated the dissolution of Parliament.

In any case, Letta immediately declared that an alliance between the PD and the M5S was now “impossible”. The five stars put a good face on the bad game. You are now standing alone and raising your profile. Suddenly, party leader Conte no longer appears on the campaign stage in a suit, tie and the proverbial pocket handkerchief, but casually in a polo shirt and sports shoes. And he positions the M5S clearly on the left, even if he doesn't say that word, but always talks about "progressive". His ace up his sleeve is basic security, which the five stars introduced in 2019 as government participants and which they are now resolutely defending against attacks – especially from Meloni.

In the south – which, with 1.7 million people, accounts for two thirds of the recipients of basic security – voters are grateful to the five stars. Election results there are 20 percent, nationally they could end up with 12 to 15 percent.

The PD, for its part, is trying to counteract this with a swing to the left. When Letta called for a rally in Rome last week, the stage was all red, his tie red, the embassy red, although Letta had taken his first political career steps with the Christian Democrats a good 30 years ago. He has the “obligatory first name Enrico”, he told the audience – that was the name of the legendary chairman of the Italian Communist Party who died in 1984.

Among workers, the PD comes to just 9 percent

Letta promised plenty of goodwill, especially for low- and middle-income workers. Thanks to the tax cut, they are said to have “an additional month’s wages” per year in their account, the statutory minimum wage is to come, and precarious employment relationships are to be drastically restricted.

Letta's problem: These demands were not applauded by workers with calluses on their hands, but by people from the educated middle class. According to polls, among workers, the PD has a mere 9 percent, while more than 50 percent vote for the right and 20 percent for the five stars. In contrast, Letta's party gets a fantastic 34 percent of people with an income of more than 5,000 euros a month.

Letta tries to console himself by pointing out that “all over Europe” the social democratic forces have lost the workers' vote. He's right about that. In the lower income groups, the moderate left is no longer perceived as defending their interests in many countries, after they have often sung the free-market hymn of globalization and more flexible labor markets for years. But failures are not made better by the fact that others have also made them.

The M5S is now standing alone, sharpening its profile touted as “progressive”.

As if the duel among the left wasn't enough for the PD, it has to duel in the middle with the alliance of two small parties - with Carlo Calenda's Azione and Matteo Renzi's Italia Viva. Calenda was elected to the European Parliament for the PD in 2019, but backtracked when it formed the five-star governing coalition. Renzi was PD chairman until 2018. Together, the two of them could fetch around six to eight percent, and they poach, above all, in the PD's reservoir of votes.

The right looks on in amusement

The tone when Letta went on tour in the e-bus was significant. "Oh god, how ugly is that bus! And you got your hubcaps stolen," Calenda tweeted, while M5S' Conte let it be known he would "never again" team up with the PD.

Meanwhile, the right looks on with amusement in this three-way battle, in which Letta gives Scholz, Conte Mélenchon and Calenda and Renzi the vest pocket Macron. In view of the division of their opponents, Meloni and her cronies can hope for almost all direct mandates and thus for a whopping majority in parliament.

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