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Alfano tipped to succeed Berlusconi, PdL prepares primaries

But some skeptical about ex-premier's 'retirement'

25 October, 15:35
Alfano tipped to succeed Berlusconi, PdL prepares primaries (ANSA) - Rome, October 25 - Party Secretary Angelino Alfano is favourite to be the centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party's candidate in elections next spring after Silvio Berlusconi said he would not stand for a fourth term as Italian premier.

Berlusconi said Wednesday that his party would hold primaries in December to decide who will lead them to the polls.

So far former Veneto governor and minister Giancarlo Galan and Daniela Santanche', an undersecretary in Berlusconi's last government, have announced they will run in the primaries and other candidates may well throw their hats into the ring. Alfano is the front-runner though, thanks in no small degree to Berlusconi seemingly making him his anointed heir last year, when the media magnate proclaimed the 41-year-old party secretary.

Up to then Alfano had served as justice minister in Berlusconi's third administration, which started in 2008 and ran until the financial crisis led to its collapse last November.

He is widely seen as a moderate and someone who is open to dialogue with the opposite side of the political spectrum. This has not always been the case in recent years when the centre left and centre right were often locked in bitter slanging matches that have made cross-party compromise virtually impossible.

Santanche, 51, is a fierce Berlusconi loyalist from the right wing of the PdL.

Her chances of success may be hampered by friction caused by her recent calls for all the senior levels of the PdL to be fired following corruption scandals that have hit the party in the regions of Lazio around Rome and Lombardy around Milan.

Galan is a Padua native who was governor of Veneto from 1995 to 2005 and agriculture minister and then culture minister in Berlusconi's last government.

He is likely to have strong support in the wealthier northern regions. But Berlusconi said he was stepping down to make way for the younger generation and, at 56, Galan may not fit the bill on this front. Some commentators have spoken of 35-year-old former youth policies minister Giorgia Meloni as a potential candidate as she could represent the face of renovation for the party. Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, one of the first PdL members to call for the party to hold primaries, was also seen a possible runner, although he said on Thursday he would not stand because he has a city to manage.

Whoever wins the primaries will have a challenge on his hands to boost the PdL's fortunes before the next year's elections, which must be held before May.

The party's ratings in the polls have been further hit by the corruption scandals after its support was cut by Berlusconi being forced to resign last year with the financial crisis threatening to spiral out of control.

The PdL, the biggest group in parliament at the moment, have slipped to third in the polls behind the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and comedian Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment Five Star movement. SKEPTICISM Berlusconi's decision, which he said he made "for the love of Italy", received applause from many quarters.

"With the decision he made yesterday, Berlusconi changed tomorrow," said Alfano.

But some doubted whether the 76-year-old would follow through. "Wait before writing the headlines because you never know," said two-time Italian premier Romano Prodi, who led centre-left coalitions to victory over Berlusconi in elections in Italy in 1996 and 2006.

Umberto Bossi, a former ally of Berlusconi's and the ex head of the Northern League, expressed incredulity.

"No, I don't believe it," said Bossi. He added that Berlusconi's announcement was unlikely to lead to the League patching up its alliance with Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party. The League and the PdL broke off their long-standing coalition last year, when Berlusconi decided to support Premier Mario Monti's emergency technocrat administration after he quit from the helm of government. "We've decided to run alone anyway," said Bossi, who was forced to step down as leader of the pro-devolution League because of a corruption scandal earlier this year.