Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Democratic Party for Italy?

As their American brethren celebrate considerable success in the mid-term elections, Italy's 'Democrats' - who so far only exist in theory - are having considerable difficulty forming a single party of the centre-left. Repubblica has run two articles in the past two days on the prospects of the Partito Democratico. They outline the positions of the key actors, which can be summarised as follows:
  • The Margherita is anxious about being absorbed. In the past two weeks, there have been a number of stories about false membership cards being registered by local Margherita bosses. The tactic - which was used by the old Democrazia Cristiana to boost the voting power of different factions at party congresses - was seen as an attempt to make the Margherita appear deserving of greater weight in any single centre-left party.
  • These concerns have abated over the past few days. Franco Rutelli was quoted in Tuesday's Repubblica as saying that the Partito Democratico cannot be a "mere federation, but something new". Given the fear above, support for a unitary party represents an important shift.
  • The Democratici di Sinistra are still worried. Much of this concerns symbolism. Two issues are relevant. First, the Catholic background of many Margherita supporters and elites could cause schism over moral and ethical issues: bio-ethics is particularly important. If we believe the post-materialists, these issues have become, and will continue to be, extremely salient. Second, the entry of the Margherita may mean a reduced commitment to 'socialism'. In particular, the Margherita may not be able to accept a new party's membership in the Party of European Socialists.
  • The left electorate wants the Partito Democratico. One Eurisko poll of July this year showed two-thirds of left voters are favourable to a Partito Democratico. Yet this is down ten percent from two years ago.
  • However, elites are still uncertain. In part, party elites may be more attentive to genuine cleavages which separate the DS and the Margherita. In part, they may be concerned about maximising power.
  • Convergence is being pursued by a heavily intellectual approach. There are three elements which are being pursued at the same time: a 'manifesto of values'; a periodical; and a 'party school'. All three are jam-packed with writers and academics. Whether these three routes will have the same utility as the program of the Unione used for the 2006 elections - a heavily criticised document that nonetheless served to bind a fractious coalition - will depend on whether these individuals can craft attractive looking compromises.

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