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PD Primary: a clean slate?

On March 3rd Italy’s Partito Democratico (PD-S&D) will hold the second round of its unique primary election, closing the year-long stretch of party infighting following the party’s defeat in the 2018 General Election and the subsequent resignation of former Prime Minister and party leader Matteo Renzi.

A first round closed primary was held in January when, after an excruciatingly long counting process, party members voted for the top three candidates to face each other in an open primary this Sunday. In the event that none of the three candidates receives over 50% of the vote (unlikely), the selection of the next party leader would fall to a vote of the delegates at the party assembly the same day, choosing between the top two candidates from the second round.

(Note: voting for a candidate means voting for his list of delegates to join the 1000 member national PD Assembly)

Who are the candidates?

The three candidates selected in January fall along fairly predictable lines:

Nicola Zingaretti, a left-wing politician and as such presents himself as a break from the party’s current centrism. He is the President of Lazio (a region that among other things, includes the city of Rome).

Maurizio Martina, the current interim Secretary of the party, with well-laid plans but the popular approval of a traffic jam after inheriting a party in disarray in 2018 (he has been solidly under 20% approval in most polls for a year now).

Roberto Giacchetti, the former Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies and a candidate solidly in the mould of Matteo Renzi.

In January’s first round Zingaretti came in first place, trailed by quite a stretch by Martina and, coming in an even more distant third, Giacchetti. All other candidates fell below 5% of the vote.

Who will win?

There is very little doubt, according to polling (both recent and even before the first round), that Zingaretti will be leading the PD after Sunday. He is well liked by both the traditional Italian left and the populist left old guard of M5S (EFDD), though he has rejected the idea of joining forces with the latter party.

All polls conducted in February place Zingaretti well above 50%, surpassing 60% in a February 17th poll conducted by Winpol. Added to his 47% in the first round, it’s hard not to see Zingaretti as the next leader of the PD.

Who can vote?

Being an open primary, anyone 16 and older who is an Italian citizen or resident can cast a ballot in the PD primary paying a minor fee of €2, though anyone without the right to vote in a regular election is required to have registered in advance.

The open nature of the primary has ensured a higher number of voters are involved than the party membership, but as party membership has declined so has the number of primary voters: this year 1 million people are hoped for, compared to 1.8 million in 2017 and 2.8 million in 2013.

Why is this important?

In 2013 Matteo Renzi took control of a struggling PD and lead a revitalized party to win 40% of the vote in the 2014 European Parliament elections. By 2016 the novelty had worn off and after a disastrous referendum, Renzi resigned only to be re-elected leader in time for a crushing defeat in the 2018 national election. Since then the PD has mostly hovered just below 20% in the polls, remaining under the interim leadership of Maurizio Martina during a year-long internal debate over the future of the party. March 3rd will mark the end of that debate and, the party hopes, the start of a new iteration of itself under a leader with a new popular mandate.

Follow Europe Elects on social media for coverage and the final result of Sunday’s vote.

Alexander runs the Europe Elects website and is a member of our team. He is an expert in Italian politics.