The "turn to sinistra" of the Italian Democratic Party (PD)

The surprising victory of Ely Schlein in the latest primaries of the main centre-left party (the Democratic Party (PD), founded on 14 October 2007) is inevitably leading this party to make a "giro a sinistra" ("turn to the left") that threatens to leave the centre-left in a political orphanage that other parties such as the Terzo Polo (which, let's remember, is the sum of Italia Viva and Azione) could take advantage of. 

Schlein, the first to be surprised by this victory, which everyone expected from the governor of the Emilia-Romagna region (Bonaccini), has appeared to be trying to unite the different sensibilities in a party that has been characterised by a strong division into internal currents. This was easy to put into practice, since the fundamental base that led to the formation of the PD at the time was, on the one hand, the ex-communists converted to socialists (Democratici di Sinistra, DS) and, on the other, the left-wing Christian Democrats (La Margherita). Their main leaders are now rather retired from politics: Pierluigi Bersani, for example, after having been several times a minister and candidate in the 2013 general elections, gave up "running" in last September's elections and now devotes himself more to acting as a political commentator. 

But this does not avoid the fratricidal nature of the PD, which has essentially led to two fundamental realities: the first, waging "internal war" on the leader elected in primaries (Bersani suffered Renzi, Renzi suffered Zingaretti, and Zingaretti directly resigned to remain secretary general, and with that to be the leader of the PD in the aforementioned general elections), and the second, assuming electoral defeat as something predictable (since the party's constitution, in general elections there has been one victory, in 2013, by heavy defeats in 2008, 2018 and 2022). The fact is that this is a party with a fragile electoral base: young Transalpine voters are a minority compared to a growing retired population, and they only really made their presence felt at the end of January 2020 with the famous "Sardines" movement, not to support the PD leadership, but to prevent their main fiefdom (Emilia-Romagna, "terra rossa" or "red soil" par excellence) from falling into the hands of Matteo Salvini's League. The Lombard leader's candidate, Luzia Borgonzoni, was eventually defeated and the "Sardines" disappeared from political life and never became a political party. Schlein, who studied law in the capital of Emilia-Romagna (Bologna), was probably a member of "The Sardines" at the time, since she had finished her time as an MEP and had not yet joined the new government of the "political father" (Bonaccini) whom she has now eliminated in the primaries (although she has had the courtesy to give him the honorary post of PD president). 

What is certain is that, beyond his fine words, he has carried out a "rottamazione" ("send to the scrap heap") greater than Matteo Renzi did when he was elected secretary general in December 2013. He has appointed two women as deputy national secretaries of the party, representing the northern part of the country (Chiara Gribaudo, a member of parliament since 2013) and the southernmost part (Loredana Capone, president of the Council of the Puglia Region, which is a minor body within a government of this territory presided over by Governor Emiliano, Renzi's rival in the 2017 primaries).  

From there, the secretaries of each of the 20 regions that make up the country are characterised both by their youth and their scant political 'curriculum' and where, incidentally, there are only two women (Chantal Bomprezzi, secretary general of the Marche region, and Valentina Ghio, representative of Liguria). From Nicola Zingaretti's Executive, only Andrea Martella, Secretary of the Veneto Region, survives, and then there are names that were literally unknown: Alessandro dal Ri (Trento), Emiliano Fossi (Tuscany), Domenico de Santis (Puglia), Giovanni Lettieri (Basilicata), Luigi Tosiani (Emilia-Romagna), and so on. 

The "sweeping out" of illustrious names (Orlando, Guerini, Zingaretti himself) can be seen in the National Assembly of the formation: there is no trace of the "old guard" of the party, of those who were in the three centre-left governments of the 2013-18 legislature; of those who were part of the coalition government with the Five Star Movement between September 2019 and February 2021; or of those who were in the Draghi government (February 2021-October 2022). 

The problem for Schlein is that it is precisely this "old guard" that occupies most of the PD's parliamentary seats. This could lead to the party leadership on the one hand and the parliamentary groups on the other. The primaries should have been called as soon as Zingaretti resigned (March 2021), but this was not the case; they waited for the electoral debacle of last September, and from then on they were called for five months later. 

From that point on, there are many questions to be answered: what about future pacts with the Cinque Stelle Movement, once any alliance with the Terzo Polo has been ruled out? Will the party's vocation be to defend the environment, given the fact that in Germany, for example, the Greens are already the third largest party with very little difference to the CDU and SPD? And what to do about all those who left the party because they did not "go along" with Matteo Renzi? 

For the time being, Schlein has room for improvement and growth, given that the PD is at its lowest level for many years. The Meloni government looks strong for the moment, but with a debt of 154% of GDP and interest rates rising to 3.5%, it will surely start to run into difficulties in the second half of the year, when the government of several regions is due to be renewed. The migration problem is still there, and threatens to become a source of attrition for the centre-right after what happened a few weeks ago on the coasts of Calabria and Sicily. But it is no less true that the September 2022 elections gave the centre-right a very broad "maggioranza", which can last until September 2027 (the Constitution sets a maximum of five years for each legislature), and that is a long time for Schlein, who narrowly beat her rival Bonaccini (she is the secretary general with the lowest level of support of all those who have passed through the PD leadership).  

She has already spoken of making "a small revolution", but the truth is that her way of turning the page on the party's historic leadership has been, to say the least, a little abrupt. We shall see what this leader, who was born in the 1980s and who believes that the PD can once again be an alternative to the centre-right, has in store for us. 

Pablo Martín de Santa Olalla Saludes is a lecturer at the Camilo José Cela University (UCJC) and author of the book "Historia de la Italia republicana" (Sílex Ediciones, 2021).