ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s main left and right-wing parties have succumbed to savage in-fighting ahead of municipal elections slated for June, with fierce divisions in both blocs pointing to a possible shake up in national politics.
Leftist veterans in Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s ruling Democratic Party (PD) are openly warning of a schism, while allies of former conservative prime minister Silvio Berlusconi are in revolt over his leadership.
Disputes over who should stand as mayoral candidates have flared across the country, but the old, established blocs have both run into particular problems in Rome, where the previous center-left mayor was forced out following an expenses scandal.
The PD held a primary vote last weekend to select its candidate, duly picking an ally of Renzi. But turnout was down almost 60 percent on the last such ballot in 2013, giving party dissidents ammunition against a prime minister they accuse of moving the PD into center-right territory.
“The PD has fallen into the hands of an arrogant, self-centered group,” former leftist prime minister Massimo D‘Alema told Corriere della Sera newspaper on Friday in an angry interview that sent shockwaves through a party he helped create.
“Lots of voters are abandoning us ... No one can rule out that in the end someone will transform this unhappiness into a new party,” he added, hinting at the creation of a leftist force that could bleed votes from the PD at parliamentary elections slated for 2018.
Renzi loyalists hit back, condemning D‘Alema for saying he would not back the PD candidate in Rome. “He has knifed his own party,” said Ernesto Carbone, a senior PD politician.
Any center-right glee over the PD bust up has been tempered by internal woes, with the largest party on the right -- the anti-euro Northern League -- in open rebellion against Berlusconi’s choice for Rome mayor, Guido Bertolaso.
The League originally backed the decision, but took a swift U-turn when Bertolaso, who stands trial later this year for allegedly rigging public work contracts, told an interviewer he had once voted for the center-left in the capital.
Berlusconi has refused to abandon his man and has denounced League leader Matteo Salvini as “utterly unreliable”.
“He only cares about his own party at the expense of his allies,” Berlusconi was quoted as saying by the Huffington Post’s Italian portal.
“Enough! I am not going to be treated like this.”
The feuding on both right and left could hand city hall to Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), whose mayoral candidate is 37-year-old lawyer Virginia Raggi.
Victory in Rome would give the M5S, which lies second in the national polls, its biggest test at governing. If it proves itself in the capital, it will significantly boost its chances of winning the next parliamentary election.
Whoever takes charge of Rome faces a daunting task. Dozens of city officials are on trial on Mafia-related charges and magistrates say the local administration is riddled with graft.
In an EU survey released in January on quality of life in the European Union’s 28 capital cities, only Athenians were less happy than Romans. When it came to satisfaction about public transport, public administration, cleanliness and the general state of streets and buildings, Rome was rock bottom.
Editing by Ruth Pitchford