Italy: Renzi Push for Early Elections will Fail

Published on February 15, 2017

After a few weeks of repeated efforts to force a June snap general election, Democratic Party secretary and former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has given up on June to lobby the PD to support him on a September vote.

*** We understand, however, that the September date may also prove to be politically problematic, and that the general elections are now more likely to come in January of next year when the current session comes to an end. That means Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni will stay in office until at least January 2018. ***

*** And that may be a good thing in terms of European political risk. Even though there is still enormous uncertainty about the outcome – which will also depend on how the new electoral law will look – this at least pushes the Italian general election out of the crowded fall political calendar dominated by the German federal elections. ***

Leadership Challenges

At Monday’s meeting of the Italian Democratic Party board in Rome, Secretary Matteo Renzi succeeded in forcing the call for a “national assembly” of high level party delegates – to be held at the end of next week.

Renzi was originally planning to hand over his resignation as party secretary there and then, in order to force the delegates to call a party conference with the task of electing a new secretary and stop the internal infighting. He eventually chose to move forward his resignation, and the party is now in the hands of his faithful second in command, Matteo Orfini.

Analysts have been focusing in the past few weeks on the challenges to Renzi’s leadership coming from the party’s left flank of Pierluigi Bersani and Massimo D’Alema, the so-called “DEM left,” a challenge brought by Tuscany’ governor Enrico Rossi. But the other challenger to Renzi’s leadership will be Puglia governor Michele Emiliano, who’s voicing concerns about the party’s lack of appeal in the south of the country.

Emiliano’s candidacy is particularly interesting as voters from southern Italian regions (including Puglia) are crucial to winning a national election. But as underscored by the results from the December 4 referendum, they have been increasingly turning towards the Five Star Movement.

Renzi, however, is still widely expected to be reappointed secretary at the party conference now set for April 30, despite the internal challenges to his leadership. But the timeline amid his battle to beat back strong internal party opposition has made a June election all but impossible (see SGH 1/26/17, “Italy The Road To Early Elections”).

So Renzi has now instead shifted his sights to a September general vote. Shooting for the fall, as opposed to waiting for the scheduled 2018 cycle, has the tactical advantage of allowing Renzi to avoid getting embroiled in year-end political battles over Italy’s 2018 budget, where the European Commission is pressing the Gentiloni government to make its first serious spending cuts  in years, and to run a campaign in opposition to “EU austerity.”

But in the meantime, local elections between May and June will be a challenging litmus test for a unified PD party to do well. And opposition to Renzi even among his own base – the powerful centrist faction called “Area DEM” who are unwilling to get rid of Gentiloni — will likely make a September vote just as politically difficult as June for Renzi in navigating his political comeback.

A New Electoral Law

Furthermore, much overlooked by the foreign political commentary was the publication of the “Motivations” by the Constitutional Court five days ago on the recent judgment that struck down the Italicum electoral law.

These motivations are significant in making it even more unlikely a snap election can be called even by September, by implicitly calling for a Parliamentary intervention.

The Court does not deem the judgment “self-implementing,” which means to go forward Parliament still has to act on the ruling and put together a new law that will need to ensure – according to the Court – “homogenous” majorities in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

And that will, of course, take a while, as no two parties agree on how to move the ball forward. Serious parliamentary debate on this has not even started yet. That, if anything, seems more likely than not to mark the end of the current legislature in January 2018 as the most realistic date for the general election.




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