Former prime minister Matteo Renzi, leader of the ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD), has admitted there is a lot of work to do after local elections in Sicily revealed a rapid decline in popularity.
The centre-right, led by former prime minister and Forza Italia boss Silvio Berlusconi as well as the head of the Northern League, Matteo Salvini, saw victory in Sicily as a great result ahead of next year’s election and the populist 5-Star Movement’s (MS5) second place finish suggests Euroscepticism remains rife in southern Italy.
Meanwhile, an IPSOS poll held after the Sicilian election put the populist 5-Star Movement (MS5) in pole position with 29.3 per cent of the vote, compared with just 24.3 per cent for the ruling PD party.
Despite a fall in the number of migrants arriving at Italy’s shores and an upturn in economic fortunes, the PD party appear to be facing a struggle to hang on to power with elections due to be held before May 2018.
The EU has good reason to fear a collapse of the ruling party – the PD is considerably more pro-European than any of their rivals while MS5 and the Northern League have both questioned Italy’s continued membership of the euro.
Speaking after the regional elections in Sicily, Mr Renzi said: “It’s clear that we have a lot of ground to make up.
“And we must achieve this among slices of the population that are either disappointed, or undecided, or abstaining — and there are many.”
Earlier this week, Mr Berlusconi mocked the PD party and suggested it was already out of the running for next year’s election.
He tweeted: “The true matchup is between us and Five Star. As in all of Europe, even in Italy the left does not have any answers for the dramatic problems of society.
“The PD in the past few years has represented a distant and aloof power, detached from Italians.”
Federico Santi, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, told the Financial Times: “The overwhelming feeling is that Renzi is a spent force. The Sicily result bodes very poorly.”
However, he believes Renzi could return as a viable candidate as Italy’s elections gradually draw nearer.
He added: “Once people realise that the choice will be between Berlusconi and Grillo they may reconsider and say maybe Renzi is not such a bad option.”
Renzi stepped down as prime minister after voters rejected his landmark constitutional reform in December last year, and was replaced by current leader Paolo Gentiloni.
Despite the improving fortunes of M5S, Italy has just introduced a new electoral system which is unlikely to work in the movement’s fortunes because it favours mainstream political blocs.
The voting system – a mix of proportional representation and first-past-the-post – will benefit parties that form pre-election coalitions, something the 5-Star has always ruled out.