The Guardian 13 April, 2005

Left win in Italian regional elections

Bob Briton

The hopes of the right wing national government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and its many corporate backers for re-election next year received a stunning blow last week during regional elections across Italy. The new Great Democratic Alliance of left-leaning parties (including Communist Refoundation and the Party of Italian Communists) won all but two of the 13 regional governments contested. The region of Basilicata will go to the polls later this month. Only the northern regions of Lombardy and the Veneto stayed in the hands of the right’s "House of Freedoms" alliance, which includes Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and the crypto-fascist National Alliance.

Voter turnout on the two days of polling was surprisingly high at 71 per cent of those eligible. The event was expected to be overshadowed by the death of the Pope. Fears that the decision by "Social Alternative Alessandra Mussolini" to run separately from other right-wing parties would damage the right’s overall chances proved groundless. The vote for the neo-fascist group (headed by the granddaughter of dictator Benito Mussolini) languished on the wrong side of one percent throughout the country.

The results confirm outgoing European Union head Romano Prodi as the candidate most likely to win next February’s "primary" election within the centre-left coalition and then face Berlusconi in the general elections of 2006. Mr Prodi has been the de facto leader of the opposition in Italy for months now and is widely respected as the person who has already beaten the current billionaire PM.

In 1996, Mr Prodi led the Olive Tree coalition — based mainly on the Party of the Democratic Left that formed on the liquidation of the Communist Party of Italy — to a historic election win. It was the first time since 1948 that the left had wielded parliamentary power. However, the failure of that government to deliver on its reform agenda led Communist Refoundation to withdraw its support in 1998.

This time the left coalition formally includes the two re-formed communist parties and hopes are high that a greater commitment to a program of pro-people change can be maintained. Friendly rivalry exists within the coalition; Communist Refoundation leader Fausto Bertinotti has signalled his intention to run against Romano Prodi at next February’s primary election to select a candidate for the post of prime minister.

The combined vote of the two communist parties hovered around ten percent throughout Italy and was higher in Umbria and the traditional "red" regions like Emilia Romagna. In Puglia, Refoundation candidate Nichi Vendola was elected regional president for the left alliance. Vendola was a very young recruit to the Young Communist Federation. He is a believer and a poet. The 46-year-old parliamentarian has had a decade of experience on the parliament’s anti-mafia commission and has a reputation as a brave campaigner for human rights. He is the founder of a number of civil rights organisations including two campaigning for the rights of gays and lesbians.

The right has been trying to minimise the impact of the loss. "This was a local battle, the national one is still to be fought", Fabrizio Cicchito of Forza Italia party told the media. However, the right has fared badly at every single recent poll — European, national and local — since the Berlusconi government stormed into power in 2001.

There is widespread anger at the changes made to the law to allow Berlusconi to evade anti-corruption charges. Even business circles are disappointed with the results of the PM’s neo-liberal program. And, of course, there is the issue of Italy’s involvement in Iraq. Mr Prodi has been unequivocal in his opposition to the war and Italian involvement.

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