Italy is going towards new parliamentary elections next fall, not that a new electoral law is formally and officially in place. In early September, I expressed that while I sympathize with the governing Social Democrats (to some extent due to a lack of alternatives), I’d be happier if Matteo Renzi would not go for reelection, but would leave the field to Gentiloni. I’m not the only one.
A German newspaper recently spoke of Renzi standing alone against the populist. This is a dangerous misconception of Renzi. (And, since that article also calls him Europe’s first Macron, of Emanuel Macron as well.) Yes, he leads the most pro-European party among the big players in Italy. But he’s as much a populist as Beppe Grillo, Silvio Berlusconi, and Matteo Salvini. It showed in his rise as it shoes in his defeat.
One week and a bit passed since the regional elections in Sicily put Renzi’s ambitions in jeopardy. Before these elections (and after), he had been bragging about how he was the only Politician in recent Italian history who managed to gain 40% twice in elections. While that is true, it’s also not true. And irrelevant. First: his party got 40% under his leadership. He certainly played a big role. Still he cannot claim the victory for himself. Second: his success was one of no-outside options and a vote for a political outsider. He has become establishment since. Populist politicians have a half-life once they take office. It’s like watching movies. You don’t watch Fast and the Furious twice. You wait for the next part of the series.
Unfortunately, Renzi has proven his critics right. He is arrogant and narcissist. Since he lost the referendum, his political message can be summarized with “us, not them”. Or even: Me, not them. I honestly don’t know anymore what the PD stands for politically. I know that for all its opponents. But there is no positive program anymore, or so it seems. Partly Renzi is to blame for this, since he spends much of his time talking about how everyone else is wrong, inside and outside of his party. What’s left at the moment is little more than a mantra of the PD’s certainty to succeed. Noisy, loud, shrill. Making people believe in it.
Just there’s no certainty anymore. Sure, Sicily was expected to be difficult for the PD. It was a landslide defeat. Losing in more than 11%, together with their partners they came in at less than 19%. The Five-Star-Movement achieved respectable 35%, but that wasn’t even enough. The alliance of center-right (read:
center-right) parties made it all the way to 40% (just below that) and got the majority in the regional parliament (spot on 36 necessary seats). At least, looking at the polls, it wasn’t totally a surprise. Those, nation-wide, now put the PD as well in third place (assuming an alliance agreement of the main right-wing parties holds even though now Salvini and Berlusconi engage in some infighting over who should lead this alliance). The supposed campaign leader of the Five-Star-Movement declared the PD no longer to be their opponent. And so did Berlusconi.
However, given the mechanism of Italy’s new electoral law, the right wing is in a much better position going into the 2018 elections. At this point, they seem more likely than any other opponent (let it be a single party or an alliance) to reach the roughly 40% threshold that will win them the majority. Understandably, since then, hell broke loose in and around the PD.
Renzi himself still firmly believes that the PD owes to him. But not everybody in the PD believes that. Some propose that Renzi shouldn’t even lead the electoral campaign, but instead Gentiloni should be running for staying in his position.
And I agree.
Matteo Renzi is still doing business as usual. He pretends that forming a coalition within the party has never been so smooth and straightforward as this time around. He looks at the most recent PD spin-off as a natural partner for an alliance, ignoring entirely that they just left the PD because they didn’t want to support his politics anymore. And that they are more keen on forming an alliance themselves and without the PD to overtake the PD on the left.
The truth is: the PD and Renzi are now a mismatch, no matter how much they reject any such claim. Even voices that support him propose that he should not lead the PD, but go ahead with a Renzi list, imitating Emanuel Macron or Sebastian Kurz. (Those voices seem to overlook that Renzi’s face is the problem. It’s not the PD, but Renzi who lost trust and popularity.) Renzi responded with a devote face, himself praising Gentiloni as a suitable prime minister – what matters, he said, was a victory for the PD. It only may not be forgotten that Gentiloni was one of Renzi’s most loyal supporters. (Had he not been, Renzi would never have selected him as his successor.) Telling is, however, that they both have to acknowledge that the leadership of the campaign hasn’t been fixed yet.
Gentiloni still stands by his loyalty and declares to not see himself as a possible contender. He’s not (or seems not to be) a politician of that kind. He is prime minister because he was called. He’d be the candidate if he was called to serve. Which makes him even more the better alternative.
But it might well be wishful thinking.