The leader of Italy’s biggest center-left party has won a primary to become the left’s candidate for prime minister in the next election. Opinion polls give him a good chance of becoming the country's next premier.
With the counting completed in almost all of the polling stations, Pier Luigi Bersani had 60.8 percent of the votes, compared to 39.2 percent for his opponent, Matteo Renzi. With the result of the primary runoff vote beyond doubt, Renzi, who is the mayor of Florence, called Bersani to concede defeat.
Speaking at a victory rally in Rome, Bersani told his supporters that their job was only half done.
"The next challenge that I put to you is to raise the bar: we have to win (the next general election) but we cannot win telling fairytales because then we will not be able to govern," Bersani said.
A general election is expected to be called for next March or April. The latest opinion polls indicate that a center-left bloc led by Bersani's Democratic Party (PD) stands a good change of winning a parliamentary majority.
Seeking to soften the blow
The 61-year-old former communist was minister of industry in the cabinet of former Prime Minister Romano Prodi in the 1990s. While he has supported Monti's technocrat administration which has attempted to introduce fiscal responsibility to Italian public institutions, Bersani has said he would seek to soften the blow of austerity on ordinary workers and pensioners.
He had been the overwhelming favorite going into Sunday's primary, having won the first round of voting on November 25 with almost 45 percent of the votes cast. The third place candidate in the first round then threw his support behind Bersani.
Voting in the second round was open to Italian citizens who signed a pledge of support for the center-left and paid a fee of two euros ($2.60) for the privilege. Amost three million votes were cast.
pfd/jr (Reuters, dpa)