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The People of Freedom (Il Popolo della Libertà, PdL) is a centre-right political party in Italy.

The party was launched by Silvio Berlusconi on 18 November 2007 and officially founded in a party congress on 27–29 March 2009, when Forza Italia merged with National Alliance, Berlusconi was elected President of the party and Sandro Bondi, Ignazio La Russa and Denis Verdini national coordinators. In coalition with Lega Nord and the Movement for Autonomies, the party currently forms Italy's government.

History

Background

Following the run up to the 2006 general election there had been talk among the components of the House of Freedoms regarding a possible merger into a "united party of moderates and reformers". Forza Italia (FI), the National Alliance (AN) and the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC) all seemed interested in the project. Soon after the election, however, UDC leader Pier Ferdinando Casini started to distance his party from its historical allies. Lega Nord (LN) showed no interest in the idea, because it wanted to retain its role as a regional party.

On 2 December 2006, during a major demonstration of the centre-right in Rome against the government of Romano Prodi, Silvio Berlusconi proposed the foundation of a "Freedom Party", stressing that voters of the different parties were all part of a "people of freedom". On 21 August 2007 Michela Vittoria Brambilla, President of the Circles of Freedom, registered the name and symbol of the new party on Berlusconi's behalf. At that time, none of Berlusconi's allies seemed keen on joining the new party; it was also not yet absolutely clear when Forza Italia would be dismantled to merge into the new party.

The "running board revolution"

On 18 November 2007, after claiming the collection of more than 7 million signatures demanding the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano to call a fresh election, Silvio Berlusconi announced from the running board of a car in a crowded Piazza San Babila in Milanmarker that Forza Italia would have soon merged or transformed into a new People of Freedom party. Both supporters and critics of the new party called Berlusconi's announcement the "running board revolution" (rivoluzione del predellino).

At that time, the fate of Forza Italia as a party remained unclear. It was thought that the new party's core would consist of Forza Italia, the Circles of Freedom and the Circles of Good Government, while some minor parties of the House of Freedoms were likely to join. Gianfranco Fini made very critical statements in the days after Berlusconi's announcement, declaring the end of his support for Berlusconi as candidate for Prime Minister and that National Alliance would not join the new party. Also Pier Ferdinando Casini, UDC leader, criticized from the beginning the idea.

The new party

After the sudden fall of Romano Prodi's government on 24 January 2008, the break-up of The Union coalition and the subsequent political crisis paving the way towards a new general election, Berlusconi hinted on 25 January that Forza Italia would probably contest its last election, and that the new party would be founded officially only after that election. In an atmosphere of reconciliation with Gianfranco Fini, Berlusconi also stated that the new party could see the participation of other parties. Finally, on 8 February, Berlusconi and Fini agreed to form a joint list under the banner of "The People of Freedom", allied with Lega Nord. UDC was invited to join, but its leaders refused to do so.

Among the several parties and groups which decided to join the PdL were: Forza Italia, National Alliance, the Circles of Freedom, the Circles of Good Government, the Liberal Populars (a splinter group from the UDC), the Christian Democracy for the Autonomies, the Pensioners' Party, the Liberal Reformers, the Italian Republican Party, the New Italian Socialist Party, the Liberal Democrats (a splinter group from the centre-left), Decide!, Italians in the World, Social Action and the Reformist Socialists.

In the general election PdL won 37.4% of the vote, getting elected 276 deputies and 146 senators, and became the Italian largest party. PdL was also the first party since Christian Democracy in 1979 to surpass the 35% of the national vote.

On 2729 March 2009 the party held its first congress in Romemarker and was officially founded. Berlusconi was elected president of the party. Sandro Bondi, Ignazio La Russa and Denis Verdini were appointed national coordinators.

Ideology and factions

The PdL aims to combine together the traditions of its two main precursors, Forza Italia (FI) and National Alliance (AN), as well as of their smaller partners (Liberal Populars, Christian Democracy for the Autonomies, New Italian Socialist Party, Liberal Reformers, Social Action, etc.).

Forza Italia, launched in 1994 by Silvio Berlusconi, was joined mainly by former Christian Democrats, Socialists and Liberals who had seen their parties disappear amid the Mani pulite scandals. National Alliance, successor of the post-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI), had become a respectable conservative party under the leadership of Gianfranco Fini. The two parties started to cooperate as soon as in 1994 and were the two pillars of the centre-right Pole of Good Government, Pole of Freedoms and House of Freedoms coalitions.

The "Charter of Values" of the PdL underlines the "Christian" and "liberal" character of the party, presenting itself as a defender of traditional values as well as individual responsibility and self-determination. The document stresses the adherence of the party to the values and the platform of the European People's Party (EPP), its support for European integration and the transformation of Italy into a federal state, coherently with its alliance with Lega Nord.

The PdL is a typical example of catch-all party. Although the leadership of Berlusconi is unquestioned, the party is far from being a monolith. In line with its allies within the EPP, its main political traditions are Christian democracy and liberal conservatism, but it is not to understimate the weight of those coming from the right-wing National Alliance and the relevant role of former Socialists, who are disproportionately represented in Berlusconi IV Cabinet: four leading ministers (Giulio Tremonti, Franco Frattini, Maurizio Sacconi and Renato Brunetta) hail from the old PSI, while another Socialist, Fabrizio Cicchitto, is the party leader in the Chamber of Deputies. This is not to say that all former Socialists are actually social-democratic now: for instance, while Tremonti is an outspoken critic of globalization and labour market flexibility, Brunetta is a free-market liberal and, as such, frequently clashes with Tremonti. Moreover internal alliances over policy are often inconsistent with the previous affilition of party members.

On issues such as end of life, Sacconi, who considers himself a social-democrat, has sided with the party's former Christian Democrats and the social-conservative wing of the former AN, while several members hailing from the MSI found themselves in alliance with the liberal wing of the former FI. This is no surprise as the late MSI had also a strong secular tradition, now represented by Gianfranco Fini, while Forza Italia was home both to social-conservatives and uncompromised social-liberals. On the economy, ex-FI Giulio Tremonti is often at odds with ex-FI liberals as Antonio Martino and Benedetto Della Vedova, while his "social-democratic" instincts go well with the statism of most former members of AN. In this sense, traditional values and the social market economy are at the basis of the new party, that has ditched the small government and libertarian rethoric of the early Forza Italia.

Factions

Although the actual factional divide in the party is not yet clear, it is possible to identify some ideologically-distinct groups:

Berlusconi vs. Fini

Somewhat awkwardly Gianfranco Fini, former leader of the conservative National Alliance and currently President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, has become the most influential representative of the socially liberal wing of the party due to his progressive views on stem cell research, end of life issues, advance health care directive and immigration. Fini is also an outspoken supporter of the principle of separation of church and state and of a more structured party organization, while Berlusconi tends to rely on his personal charisma to lead the party from the centre and thus proposes of a lighter form of party, which in his mind should be a movement-party that organizes itself only at election times.

The political views of Fini, especially over moral issues and laicity are shared by the liberals of the former AN party (Adolfo Urso, Italo Bocchino, Fabio Granata among others), the FareFuturo foundation and by other liberal figures within the PdL, including Benedetto Della Vedova and Alessandra Mussolini. The case of Mussolini is especially interesting because she hails from the hard right Social Action (AS) party. However, notwithstanding her party affiliations (first as member of the MSI, then of AN and later as leader of AS), she has always held socially liberal views on a number of issues. Within the PdL she has soon become the leader of the "pro-immigrant" wing of the party, often opposing some of the policies of Berlusconi government or taking an independent line from it.

If Fini has been able to make inroads among the liberal and centrist ranks of the former Forza Italia, most former leading members of AN, notably including Ignazio La Russa and Maurizio Gasparri, are now closer to Berlusconi than to their former leader , while others, including Gianni Alemanno and Alfredo Mantovano, often side with the party's Christian democrats. However most of those hailing from AN are grateful to Fini and not eager to distance themselves too much from him, making him an influential leader within the PdL and the embodiment of a plural political party.

Popular support

The People of Freedom has its strongholds in Northern Italy, especially Lombardy and Veneto, and in some regions of the South, notably Sicily and Apuliamarker. Despite this, in the 2008 general election, the party was fairly stronger in the South, where there are more swing voters, than in the North, due to the big win of Lega Nord, which scored 27.1% in Veneto, 21.6% in Lombardy and 12.6% in Piedmont. In this respect the region where PdL scored best is Campania, with a surprising 49.1% in a traditionally centre-left region.

The electoral results of the People of Freedom in the 10 most populated Regions of Italy are shown in the table below. As PdL was launched in 2007, the electoral results from 1994 to 2006 refer to the combined result of the two main percursor parties, Forza Italia and National Alliance.

1994 general 1995 regional 1996 general 1999 European 2000 regional 2001 general 2004 European 2005 regional 2006 general 2008 general 2009 European
Piedmont 34.8 37.9 33.8 36.8 42.7 41.2 31.0 31.9 35.8 34.3 32.4
Lombardy 31.8 39.5 32.6 36.5 43.6 40.9 32.9 34.7 37.3 33.5 34.4
Veneto 31.4 34.7 28.8 34.3 40.2 40.5 33.6 30.8 35.8 27.4 29.3
Emilia-Romagna 25.5 28.5 26.6 29.0 32.6 33.5 28.2 27.1 28.8 28.6 27.4
Tuscany 27.3 32.2 30.1 30.4 35.2 34.7 28.7 27.9 29.5 31.6 31.4
Lazio 45.8 43.5 45.0 40.9 44.6 46.8 35.9 39.3 40.0 43.5 42.7
Campania 40.2 37.2 42.1 35.9 32.1 46.9 32.7 22.5 39.8 49.1 43.5
Apulia 27.3 41.1 42.5 40.7 44.2 45.4 36.4 38.9 40.5 45.6 43.2
Calabria 36.2 36.0 41.7 31.6 28.7 40.9 28.5 19.9 31.7 41.2 34.9
Sicily 47.6 31.2 (1996) 48.6 38.9 36.4 (2001) 47.4 36.0 29.8 (2001) 40.0 46.6 36.4
ITALY 34.5 - 35.8 35.5 - 41.1 32.3 - 36.0 37.4 35.3


Leadership





References

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