The last Italian prime minister whose surname began with a “B” – Silvio Berlusconi – was a disaster. The country’s next leader’s name is also likely to start with a “B”.
Investors want Mario Monti, the technocrat who took over from Berlusconi last year, to stay as prime minister after the election, which will probably be in March. But they are more likely to get Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the left-wing Democratic Party (PD). While there are risks, such an outcome may not be as bad as it looks – not least because Bersani has promised to continue with Monti’s policies and was one of the few reformers when Romano Prodi was prime minister in the last decade.
Trade union-backed Bersani will be the standard-bearer for the left in the coming elections after winning a decisive primary at the weekend against Matteo Renzi, the modernising mayor of Florence. His first comments were promising: he said the PD would have to tell Italians the “truth, not fairy-tales” about the country’s grave economic situation.
What happens next is the subject of feverish speculation and intrigue in Rome, where I spent part of last week. Will the PD and its allies, the radical-left SEL – who collectively have a firm lead in the opinion polls with 36 percent support, according to SWG – be able to secure an overall majority in the election? Or will parliament, which Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition still dominates, change the voting system to deny them that chance? The current electoral law guarantees the coalition with the largest number of votes at least 55 percent of the MPs but there are various schemes under discussion to cut the so-called winner’s premium.
Another topic of speculation is whether Monti will endorse a new movement set up by Luca Di Montezemolo, the Ferrari boss, whose avowed intent is to gather enough votes to secure the technocrat’s continuation as premier? And what about Berlusconi, who received an initial conviction for tax fraud in October? Will he re-enter the political fray by forming a new party?