by Eric J. Lyman

Italy’s Democratic Party, which has run the country’s government over the last five years, is heading for crisis amid internal divisions and the rise of anti-establishment movements across Europe.

The Democratic Party and its direct predecessors have been the dominant political force in Italy over the last quarter century. Nine prime ministers in Italy’s last 15 governments were from the Democratic Party.

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A split between the party’s old guard — headed by former prime minister Massimo D’Alema and Pier Luigi Bersani, a former party secretary — and a newer faction headed by another ex-prime minister, Matteo Renzi, was first revealed in a 2012 primary battle for party leadership in which Bersani bested Renzi.

Since then, D’Alema and Bersani have left the Democratic Party to form their own party, taking with them the support of many older members of the party, while some younger party members have begun throwing their support behind the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, an eight-year-old party founded by controversial comedian-turned-activist Beppe Grillo.

For many years, we looked at the Democratic Party as Italy’s last big party, the last party with various elements under a single umbrella,” Renato Moro, a political historian with Roma Tre University, told Xinhua. “That is no longer true. Since the emergence of Renzi, the Democratic Party has become smaller and more fragile.

Renzi, a former mayor of Florence, has been a polarizing influence on the party, exciting some factions and alienating others.

He was prime minister from February 2014 until December 2016, when he stepped down after a national referendum he supported was rejected. But he retook control of the Democratic Party earlier this year, making him the party’s de facto candidate for prime minister in elections scheduled for early 2018.

Renzi destroyed almost everything from the past in order to try to create something new,” Pietro Paganini, a political scientist with the think tank Competere, said in an interview. “But what he created isn’t working well. The party has become an elite organization that responds to specific interest groups, but isn’t effective in addressing the concerns of most individuals.

Analysts also said that the Democratic Party was facing a wave that has seen anti-establishment elements do well across Europe. “The left-wing and former socialist parties have been struggling everywhere, and Italy has not been immune,” Paganinisaid.

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