Italy’s centre left bounces back in local elections

ROME — Sweeping wins for the centre left in Italy’s local elections have sounded alarms for Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo, the mavericks who emerged as the big winners from February’s deadlocked national vote.

Elections on Monday in more than 500 towns and cities, including the capital Rome, saw the centre left bounce back from its humiliating near-collapse after the February poll, which it had long been expected to win comfortably.

By contrast, Grillo’s 5-Star Movement suffered stinging losses in Sicily, scene of one of its greatest triumphs last year, while Berlusconi’s People of Freedom failed to win a single major city.

Roberto D’Alimonte, one of Italy’s top election analysts, said Grillo suffered from the lack of credible, qualified candidates in a movement entirely dominated by its charismatic leader.

“The same thing applies to the PDL. In local voting, when Berlusconi is not candidate, it doesn’t fare well. They don’t have the candidates,” he said.

Even Renato Brunetta, the PDL leader in the lower house, calls the party a “monarchic and anarchic” and many see its dependence on Berlusconi’s proven campaign skills and understanding of the electorate as a double-edged sword.

“No Silvio, No Party”, ran a headline in the right-wing Il Giornale newspaper, owned by the Berlusconi family, reflecting widespread perceptions that the PDL needs to build up a more durable base that does not depend entirely on one leader.

The Monday result may have strengthened Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s Democratic Party, locked in uneasy coalition with Berlusconi after no party emerged with a majority in February, but it has complicated an already fractured political scene.

The grand coalition between the two traditional rivals on the right and left is seen as a measure of last resort even by members of the government and an unusually low turnout reflected widespread disillusion with the political system. (Reuters)

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