Italy's Democrats Pick Rome-Area Regional Head to Lead Comeback

(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s Democratic Party chose Rome-area regional president Nicola Zingaretti as its new leader ahead of European Parliament elections, a year after the party crashed and burned in national voting that brought a populist coalition to power.

The left-leaning party, once headed by Matteo Renzi, the charismatic former prime minister, has been in the political wilderness for the past 12 months, mounting a noisy but ineffective opposition. Party leaders say they’re targeting the May European elections for a comeback.

Zingaretti, 53, the head of the Lazio region, said he received between 65 percent and 75 percent of the vote in Sunday’s nationwide primary, according to a posting on the party’s website.

He will have to devise a strategy to lure back younger PD voters, many of whom defected to the upstart Five Star Movement in the 2018 balloting. Five Star makes up half the ruling coalition, along with the anti-migrant League.

Critics mocked the choice of a one-time Communist who cut his political teeth in the 1980s to lead the party back to relevance. “The Dinosaurs Are Returning,” daily Il Giornale, owned by the family of former premier Silvio Berlusconi, said on its front page.

Poll Numbers

While the party, known as the PD, struggles to find its voice in opposition, the League and Five Star continue to butt heads on issues including immigration and the TAV high-speed rail link. Polls show the indecision on a message has the party stuck in a rut.

The PD’s support is at 18.5 percent support, in line with the 18.7 percent of votes it won in the March 2018 election, according to an Ipsos poll published Saturday in Corriere.

Meanwhile support is rising for the League, to 35.9 percent in the survey. Backing for Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio’s anti-establishment Five Star slipped to 21.2 percent, mirroring recent outcomes in regional votes.

Despite Five Star’s woes, Di Maio is confident that neither his party nor his ally and sometime rival will pull the plug on their coalition government and put Italy on the path to early elections, despite recurrent tensions, he said in an interview with Bloomberg last week.

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