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24th Aug 2016

Focus

Italy PM chooses women MEP candidates to combat 'grey' list

  • Success in the 25 May elections is crucial for Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (Photo: Carlo Nidasio)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has selected five women to front the campaign of his Democratic Party (PD) for May's European Parliament elections, with an 11th-hour reshuffling of candidates' lists that caused a few frictions among his underlings.

Renzi picked four national PD lawmakers – Alessia Mosca, Alessandra Moretti, Simona Bonafè and Pina Picierno – as well as justice ministry official Caterina Chinnici, whose father Rocco, a judge, was slain by the Sicilian mafia in 1983, to head the PD's lists in Italy's north-west, north-east, centre, south and islands constituencies.

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He made the change on Tuesday (8 April) night, on the eve of an official announcement. Italian media suggested he intervened because the draft list of candidates that had been submitted to him was too "grey".

As a result, two people who were bumped off the top positions – Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini and Bari Mayor Michele Emiliano – withdrew from the race. It is still unclear who will take their place. The PD has until April 15 to make a decision.

Nicolini – who dealt with the aftermath of the 3 October shipwreck off the shores of Lampedusa, in which 366 migrants died, and campaigns for immigration reform in Italy and the European Union – said that after being denied the number one spot she had been promised, her candidacy had been "deprived of any meaning".

List frontrunners are by no means guaranteed election, as all candidates have to compete for preference votes. But the top position on ballot papers gives them much-needed visibility, multiplying their chances of success.

The PD lists include 16 out of 23 outgoing MEPs who are seeking re-election, including European Parliament Vice President Gianni Pittella, who is gunning for a promotion to the top seat in the EU assembly, which has not been occupied by an Italian since 1979.

Other notable candidates are Renato Soru, a former President of Sardinia and founder of internet provider Tiscali, and Congo-born Cecile Kyenge, who was subjected to a torrent of racist abuse while serving as Italy's first-ever black cabinet member under Renzi's predecessor Enrico Letta.

Success in the 25 May elections is crucial for Renzi. He is keen to consolidate support for his reform-oriented government and win a personal endorsement from voters after breaking a promise to seek high office only after a general election win. Instead, he ousted party colleague Letta in February, following a behind-the-scenes coup.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) of comedian Beppe Grillo, which is courting recession-weary voters with promises to "send home" all professional politicians, hold a referendum on eurozone membership and withdraw from austerity pacts such as the Fiscal Compact, is the biggest threat to the PD.

In a deepening rivalry, Renzi and Grillo are trading verbal punches almost daily.

Writing on his blog, the M5S leader dismissed the Renzi's female frontrunners as a "marketing" ploy" in the best Berlusconian tradition", evoking former premier Silvio Berlusconi's promotion of former models, singers and TV showgirls through the ranks of his People of Freedom and Forza Italia parties.

Renzi shot back in an interview with RAI state television. "Grillo wakes up every morning and thinks: 'How can I attack the PD today?'; I wake up every morning and I think: 'How I can change Italy today?'," he said.

A poll released Friday by the Ixe institute had the PD leading the race for the EU vote with 32.2 percent, followed by the M5S on 25.2 percent. Forza Italia – whose leader Berlusconi is waiting for judges to confirm that he can serve a tax fraud conviction performing community service – was trailing on 19.1 percent.

Three other parties made it across the 4-per-cent threshold: the New Centre Right, a ruling coalition partner of the PD, on 5.3 percent; the far-right Northern League on 5.2 percent; and the far-left Tsipras List on 4.2 percent.

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