Home News New center-left party will be born under adverse circumstances

New center-left party will be born under adverse circumstances


On Sunday, October 14th primaries will be held for the election of the leader of the new Democratic Party which is going to be by far the biggest party in the current government. The merger between the Democrats of the Left and the Margherita party has been prepared for several months and it is widely expected that Walter Veltroni, mayor of Rome, will easily win the primaries as his candidacy has been endorsed by the leadership circles of the two vanishing parties.


This does not mean that Veltroni’s role as the clear frontrunner has been left uncriticized within the center-left. Rosa Bindy, minister for family affairs in the Prodi government and a distant runner-up in the race for the presidency of the Democratic Party, has vehemently attacked the way leading figures of the Democrats of the Left have tried “coronate” Veltroni and present his victory in the primaries as a foregone conclusion. Bindy’s campaign portrays the choice for Veltroni as a continuation of elitist party politics and a lost chance to revitalize the center-left and the country. She also seeks to emphasise that it is a time for a woman to climb to the highest levels of national politics. Her efforts will most probably not be enough for a victory on Sunday but the attacks on Veltroni may result in his authority as new party leader being somewhat compromised. In particular, her insinuation that Veltroni’s supporters may resort to electoral fraught during the primaries has poisoned the contest between the two.


More conspicuous still are the uncertainties within the current coalition of what Veltroni’s victory will mean for the work of the government. Romano Prodi has welcomed the creation of the Democratic Party as a way of defeating the anti-politics movement that is advancing in Italy at the moment and he therefore sees in the new party a means to defend democracy in Italy. He also declares that it will “make Italy stronger, more just and more cohesive”. But in reality there are many observers who see the co-existence of Prodi as prime minister and Veltroni as leader of the center-left as a possible burden for the functioning of the coalition. Dissent between Veltroni and the government has already emerged as the mayor of Rome tries to capitalize on public dissatisfaction with two much-discussed policy areas. One regards the need to cut down on the administrative costs caused by the present political system. Veltroni raised the issue of reducing the number of cabinet ministers and was promptly told by Prodi that this is not an area for him to comment upon. The other topic on which Veltroni attempted to put forward a highly popular proposal regarded fiscal reform as he joined the chorus of the great majority of Italians who demand tax cuts. In response to Veltroni the finance minister in Prodi’s cabinet, Tommaso Padoa Schioppa, made the ironic remark that taxes are “beautiful”.


In his current position as mayor of Rome, Veltroni may make such attempts of capturing the public mood and challenge the government. However, it is difficult to see how he can attack the government and make ambitious policy proposals once he is elected as leader of the Democratic Party as every criticism of Prodi will make the center-left look weak and divided and will inevitably be interpreted as an attempt to reach for the premiership himself. At the same time, it would not be wise for Veltroni to be seen as a Prodi loyalist since the unpopularity of the government would then also be reflected on him. One may expect an uneasy rivalry between the prime minister and the new party leader to further weaken Prodi’s position without allowing Veltroni to appear as a strong and independent alternative.


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