If you were in Italy today, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was election day. But there’s no general election on, nor is there any European or local vote happening. And it’s not even a primary, even though you’d be hearing that misused expression, ‘primarie’, a lot. No, what’s on today across the country that looks like Jonny Wilkinson’s leg half a second before striking the ball that sank France, is a popular vote to elect the first leader of the brand new Partito Democratico, the fusion of the remains of Italy’s two most glorious parties of the post-war era, Democrazia Cristiana, DC (now, and only for another few hours, Margherita) and Partito Comunista Italiano, PCI (now, and only for another few hours, Democratici di Sinistra) (the reader will understand that it would be demeaning of her – yes, she’s female, my ideal reader is female – intelligence if I translated such obvious names).
So this is a big day, in Italy. It’s a big day because when archenemies come together, that’s a good day’s work in the unstoppable path towards perpetual peace (yes, that stupid Kantian idea(l)). In the old days, the two parties used to accuse each other of eating babies (DC to PCI) and of blowing up trains, airplanes, and kidnapping and executing its own leader (PCI to DC). And now they come together in the struggle for a better Italy. So, the reader will be forgiven for thinking, it’s good news coming from Jonny’s leg today. Even better in the light of the fact that this great merger comes through popular vote (someone might even think Gordon Brown should pop by to check how to give the people of Britain a say); and if you think that the man who will tonight be the new leader of this new party (yes, like with every other popular vote, we already know the outcome) is a good, decent, straightforward, Africa-concerned, art-driven, bookish politician: no, not Gordon, Walter Veltroni (Rome’s mayor). A man who has found the compromise which will drive Italy forward: left-wing (whatever that means, ask TB) politics with the Vatican’s blessing. Nevermind the faggots. Nevermind stem-cell research. Nevermind unmarried couples, abortions, adoptions, and single mothers. Nevermind evolution and the emancipation from the Catholic Church. Nevermind abusive priests (fascist extremists would also add: nevermind the foreign occupation of a good half of our capital city). What’s at stake deserves a sacrifice, and Veltroni has fully understood what our priorities must be.
Let us come to today’s contest: there are five candidates for the leadership of the new Partito Democratico: the winner, Veltroni; then Enrico Letta (second-in-command in the Prime Minister’s office); Rosy Bindi (the only woman, cabinet minister); and two outsiders: journalist blogger sometime DC politician Mario Adinolfi and Piergiorgio Gawronski. But today’s vote is not only to elect the leader, but also the founding national assembly of the new party; and the regional leaders of the new party; and the founding regional assemblies of the new party (yes, politics in Italy is still quite big, isn’t it?).
The run-up to the vote has seen very little policy argument (no two leadership candidates have had a debate on anything); mostly because it would have been hard for the different candidates to distance themselves from the others without insulting them (yes, Italians have still a lot to learn from Americans about primaries… but they are trying, or at least they make out to be trying – and the British reader will know from her own stereotypes about Italy how important appearance is if you live in Jonny’s leg). There has been much in-fight on the candidates for the 2.400 strong national assembly, but no political content (that is, if you think that political content is something another than power struggle (that is, if you are a naïve American rather than a wet post-Blairism Brit)).
Anyway, polling stations close at 9pm british time. And then Veltroni will be the new leader of the new party (and if that sounds 1984ish, then get used to it: life’s scary).