Meet the anti-Renzi: Elly Schlein becomes first woman leader of Italy’s center left

Meet the anti-Renzi: Elly Schlein becomes first woman leader of Italy’s center left
Опубликовано: Monday, 27 February 2023 13:38

Primary winner is a left-wing radical who once abandoned the party under centrist Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s leadership.

Radical candidate Elly Schlein is the new leader of Italy’s traditionally center-left Democratic Party (PD), after winning a primary vote Sunday.

Schlein becomes the youngest leader and first woman at the helm of the PD, and is seen by supporters as a breath of fresh air for the party — historically dominated by middle-aged men — while critics point out that her unabashedly left-wing agenda could hinder the party’s electoral appeal.

The PD resoundingly lost Italy’s general election in September 2022, prompting calls for a major overhaul at the top.

In an open primary, the 37-year-old Schlein narrowly beat the favorite, Stefano Bonaccini, the more experienced governor of Emilia-Romagna, with 53.8 percent of the votes against 46.2 percent, according to final results published by Italian media.

That came as a surprise to many pundits and pollsters who had written off the former MEP, who had lost by a wide margin to Bonaccini last week in a caucus with party members.

But the open primaries which were held over the weekend proved to be a game-changer, as young left-wingers who are not party members flocked to the ballot box to vote for Schlein. The newly elected leader gained the upper hand over Bonaccini in big cities such as Milan, Turin and Naples, and in traditionally left-leaning areas in central Italy, but lost in most southern regions, according to the pollster YouTrend.

A left-wing radical who abandoned the party last decade under centrist Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s leadership and returned to the fold only a few months ago, Schlein cut her teeth by working as a volunteer for Barack Obama’s U.S. presidential election campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and later became one of the youth leaders of the PD’s left flank.

In a first for Italy’s traditionally male-dominated politics, both Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and the de facto leader of the opposition are women — with completely different ideology.

Schlein, a lesbian who has a liberal agenda from LGBTQ+ rights to migration, is seen as the antithesis of Meloni. “I received a mandate to change people, methods and vision,” she said in her acceptance speech in Rome, promising to tackle poverty, health care privatization, precarious work and climate change.

“I hope that the election of a young woman as the leader in via del Nazareno (the address of the PD’s HQ) could help the Left look forward and not backwards,” said Meloni, after the result was announced.

Schlein’s victory marks the ultimate backlash against Renzi’s centrist and pro-market policies, and has been compared by pundits to U.K. Labour’s previous leftward lurch under Jeremy Corbyn.

Political analysts argue that under its new leader the PD might be edging closer toward the anti-establishment 5Star Movement, which outflanked the traditional center left on issues such as environmentalism, redistribution and opposition to the delivery of weapons to Ukraine.


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For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

The conflict in Ukraine will be one of the thorniest issues for Schlein, whose ancestors hail from a village close to modern-day Lviv, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Under the outgoing leader Enrico Letta, the PD embraced a pro-NATO stance and wholeheartedly supported the sending of lethal weapons to Ukraine, but there are question marks over whether Schlein will continue in the same vein.

“We support Ukraine’s right to defend itself, through every form of assistance,” said Schlein in a recent interview with the broadcaster La7. “But as a pacifist, I don’t think that weapons alone will end the war.”

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