Tension in Italy's centre right, primary set to be scrapped

Confusion over who will be premier candidate, reports of rift

Tension in Italy's centre right, primary set to be scrapped

(see related story on centre-left primary) Rome, November 29 - Tension and confusion are rampant in Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Freedom of People (PdL) party, which looks set to cancel plans to hold a primary next month to select its premier candidate for next spring's national elections. The plan to hold the primaries on December 16 has reportedly been scuppered by Berlusconi, who was forced to resign as premier a year ago when Italy's debt crisis was threatening to spiral out of control. The media magnate recently said he is reconsidering his decision not to stand for a fourth term as premier next year and reportedly wants to revamp the PdL with a major overhaul of the party's top brass. This has led to great confusion about who will lead the party, which has dropped to third in the opinion polls, at elections that are likely to take place in March. "Yes the party is orientated towards dropping the primary," said Mariastella Gelmini, a senior PdL member and the education minister in Berlusconi's 2008-2011 government. "There isn't much time. We'll try to renew the party in other ways, such as with a policy convention, a national assembly and meetings at the local level". Berlusconi has reportedly dropped plans to abandon the PdL and recreate his old party, Forza Italia. But the party may split anyway because many former members of the right-wing National Alliance (AN) party, which merged with Forza Italia in 2009, are unhappy about the direction Berlusconi wants to take the party in. "I'm not disappointed, I'm angry," said Alessandro Cattaneo, the PdL mayor of the northern city of Pavia. "These primaries must take place because they are healthy. The (centre-left) Democratic Party is at (around) 30% in the opinion polls with the help of its primaries". A series of corruption scandals affecting top centre-right politicians in Rome and Milan have hit the popularity of the PdL, which is the biggest party in parliament at the moment. But the party has also been suffering from a vacuum of leadership since Berlusconi stepped back from the front line. Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, another senior PdL figure and a former AN member, recently said that it would not be a good idea for Berlusconi to stand again as "a new leader is needed, not a return to 20 years ago". He also warned that "if the primaries are cancelled, it will be difficult to keep the party together".

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