“A groundbreaking result, which was not a given – a great victory for the PD and the center-left,” said Enrico Letta. On Monday, he followed the vote in his home district of Siena, where he also ran himself for a seat in the Chamber. It was a clear victory for him, with close to 50% (with a 35% turnout), as the party brought home an unexpected result (at least in size) in the big cities: Bologna, Naples and Milan have gone to the center-left in the first round, and while the result in the capital of Emilia was expected, it was not so in Naples, where the alliance between the PD and M5S was tested.
The Democrats also won in the Roman constituency of Primavalle, where the seat went to the secretary of the Rome branch, Andrea Casu (44.2% against 36.8% for the center-right). Also unexpected was the result in Turin, where the PD’s Stefano Lo Russo goes to the runoff in the lead (43.1%) against the strongest candidate that Meloni and Salvini had fielded in these municipalities: the entrepreneur Paolo Damilano, who got 39.1%.
In Rome, after some excitement in the mid-afternoon when the SWG exit polls put incumbent mayor Raggi close to Gualtieri, the candidate of the PD went on to the runoff with 27%, four points below Enrico Michetti. [Editor’s note: On Tuesday it was confirmed she would lose, leaving a runoff between two candidates backed by the right and the left.]
Letta did not hold back his enthusiasm: “We are back on the wavelength of the country, we have shown that the right is beatable. In March, when I returned to Italy, the victory of Salvini and Meloni seemed unavoidable. The right is losing because it no longer has a connecting figure, who was Berlusconi. I hope that Lega and FdI will continue in this way.”
“I’m proud and happy with this campaign fought on the field, not in the living rooms or on social media,” he says before diving into a toast in Piazza del Campo in the rain, with choruses of Bella Ciao from the militants present.
“A result that strengthens the Draghi government, and also Europe, since the pro-Europeans have won,” the PD secretary continued. “This data will push the political forces to take more time, even those who were pushing for a vote now. Even buoyed by this victory, I could say let’s have a [general election] vote, as I’m thinking of the interest of the country: Draghi is strong and credible in Europe, and will know how to use the money of the NRP well.”
For Letta, the prospect is not that of a technocratic government persisting indefinitely, but “the construction of a progressive coalition that can win in 2021.” In his view, the PD will be the “connecting figure” and “center of weight” of the alliance: “My task is to make people stand together with each other, as unity is necessary to beat the center-right.”
He had a subtle barb for the M5S: “It seems to me that they do better where they’re allied with us.” And on the possible alliances with them for the runoffs: “I see a path of natural convergence, but it’s up to us to say the right words, without arrogance.” A message that also went to Carlo Calenda: “He is a dialogue partner, in the future our paths will have to converge.”
The goal now is “to widen the coalition,” even where the first round has not yielded victory. With grace, the PD leader has moved on from Conte as leader of the coalition: “That was another phase, but I work well with Giuseppe, and will continue to.”
He also spoke about the PD itself, which in March he had found in a balkanized condition: “We have worked on the internal unity of the party, which is the key to any positive result. I share the credit for these results with Nicola Zingaretti for the work done before my arrival. Politics is also this, nobody is a superhero.” And to the party’s Deputies, he says: “I’m not going to the Chamber to keep the troops in check.”
The PD leader seemed to be clear that the populist wave is not over, it has only suffered a setback. And that the social malaise has not vanished, as evidenced by the high abstention rate (about 50% of Italians voted, the lowest figure in the history of municipal elections): “The discontent is there,” says Letta. “We will have to manage this phase of the fall well, focus on work and social issues, young people, talk to voters who are struggling. This result allows us to give the government the strength to do this.”
Indeed, this is because loyalty to Draghi and responsibility “are not enough. Problems will emerge, and we will have to face them by keeping rights, work and the environment together.” For Letta, after seven years since his ouster from Palazzo Chigi at the hands of his own party, it is a day of personal vindication: “I’m back in Parliament with great emotion; this campaign is where I have completed my political training, I was missing something even when I was Prime Minister.”
The fundamental thing is that he “untangled the knot of this difficult constituency.” Prodi’s blessing also arrived: “They were the perfect words. I won when I enlarged the coalition. Enrico did it in all the cities, and an avalanche of votes arrived.”
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