Further gains were made by Italy’s radical left locally in town hall elections on Monday as people vented their anger at technocrat premier Mario Monti’s austerity policies.
The right wing party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi saw heavy losses while there was a surge in support for the broadly progressive 5 Star Movement led by Beppe Grillo, a comedian and blogger who wants Italy to quit the euro and whose campaigns against the established parties has gained increasing resonance in the wake of a spate of corruption scandals.
In the northern city of Parma, it knocked Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party which had previously ruled the city, into fifth place, winning a score of nearly 20, while in Genoa, Grillo’s hometown, it won 15%, putting the People of Freedom Party into fifth place, according to partial results. At its first political test in 2010 the movement, which organizes itself through the internet and social networks, won just 1.8% of the vote, rising to 3.4% at Milan’s mayoral election the following year.
The centre-left Democrats, which together with Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party, support the Monti government’s austerity measures and neo-liberal pension and labour reforms, scored wins.
But more notable were successes in the two biggest cities included in these elections by radical candidates who won through in centre left primaries against the preferred, more conservative, candidates of the Democrats.
In Palermo, veteran anti-Mafia campaigner Leoluca Orlando, of the opposition Italy of Values party and supported by the radical Communist Refoundation party, had a strong lead after the first round. Voters in the Sicilian capital had “rejected the disastrous social policies of Monti’s government”, Orlando said.
In Genoa, Marco Doria, supported by a Left coalition including both the Democrats and Communist Refoundation, was comfortably ahead.
Italy of Values, led by former anti-corruption magistrate Antonio di Pietro, opposes Monti in parliament, as do the communists, who no longer have any MPs.
Should Orlando and Doria secure victory in cities the runoff ballots on May 20-21, they will join Milan and Naples which are in the hands of a left that is both radical and independent from the pro-Monti main opposition Democrats.
Communist Refoundation leader Paolo Ferrero welcomed Orlando and Doria’s successes and said: ‘It clear that the the moderate centre left is in crisis while the lists of the ‘new’ left are advancing, in line with the results of Melenchon in France and Syriza in Greece.
Ferrero was also positive about Grillo’s advance: ‘It indicates the great desire for change that must be listened to, and which also attracted many votes in the Right, a Right whose support has fallen badly.
‘Grillo raises the issues of change in the political system and the end of privileges of the [political] ‘cast’. We call for a change in politics too but also that of economic policy: to fight unemployment with a strong state intervention in the economy, for a wealth tax and a defence of workers.
‘It is it clear that the forces that support the Monti government have suffered a heavy blow and they really ought to pack their bags before they do any more damage.’
Tax rises, pension cuts and deregulatory labour reforms have fuelled mounting opposition to Monti, a former EU Commissioner, since he replaced billionaire Berlusconi as PM in November.
Burnt by the election results, one senior figure in the People’s People of Freedom party launched a scathing attack on the unelected prime minister’s domestic policies on Monday night, accusing him of playing the role of “Germany’s representative”.
“Monti and the technocratic government can get to 2013, if they are in synthesis with a Europe that is not a German Europe, and demand of Europe a strong response to this crisis. Otherwise it is better to go to [early] elections,” said Renato Brunetta, former minister for public sector reforms in Berlusconi’s previous government and party spokesman for economics, .
He denied that his party wanted to bring down the technocratic government that replaced the PDL-led coalition in November. But Mr Brunetta warned that the government risked “imploding”. “Monti has done nothing for growth,” he said.
Mr Brunetta said Mr Monti had been “co-opted” into the Merkel-Sarkozy alliance but that the defeat of the French president by Socialist François Hollande showed that Europe had to change course.
The EU fiscal compact, known by critics as the permanent austerity treaty, had to be amended to give the European Central Bank the authority to take part in government debt auctions and allow for commonly issued debt, or eurozone bonds, he added.
The Northern League, engulfed by a party funding embezzlement probe, and out of love with former ally Berlusconi, also suffered losses, but its refusal to back Monti may be paying dividends. The mayor of Verona, whose Northern League party has strongly opposed a new housing tax promoted by the technocrat government, appeared headed to a first-round victory.
More than 9 million people or some 20 percent of the electorate were eligible to vote in more than 900 towns and cities across Italy. The poll was the first significant election since Monti took office in November.