|Former communist poised to lead Italy
Pier Luigi Bersani, now a favorite to become Italy's next prime minister in a 2013 vote after being picked by center-left supporters, is a cigar-chomping ex-communist with a liberal economic streak.
Early results showed the 61-year-old Democratic Party leader won a primary against his more charismatic rival, Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, thanks to his government experience, a down-to-earth manner and anti-austerity rhetoric.
The son of a petrol station owner from the hill country town of Bettola in the leftist Emilia Romagna region, Bersani was born on September 29, 1951.
He launched his campaign for the nomination in October of this year at that same petrol station, where he used to work to help fund his studies.
“Without roots, you can't produce new leaves,'' he told his supporters there. He graduated in philosophy and briefly worked as a school teacher before launching his political career in the once-powerful Italian Communist Party, which was eventually disbanded in 1991 as the Soviet Union fell apart.
Most former Communist party members joined what is now the Democratic Party.
Bersani was elected governor of his home region in 1993 and then appointed as industry minister in 1996 in former premier Romano Prodi's first government.
He also served as transport minister and as economic development minister between 2006 and 2008 when he spearheaded a wave of privatisations.
He says he will continue Monti's policies of “discipline and credibility’’ but will also emphasize his own priorities of “employment and fairness.''
A poll by the Cise-Luiss political research center earlier this month said Bersani represented “the soul of the identity of the left’’.
The Democratic Party is tipped by all recent polls as the likely winner of a general election expected in April 2013, although without a majority.
Currently a deputy in Italy's lower house of parliament, he has also been a Member of the European Parliament and has set up a think tank with former finance minister Vincenzo Visco called NENS (New Economy, New Society).
Bersani was an opponent of Silvio Berlusconi but his failure to unite the left against the increasingly weakened media tycoon counts against him.
Bersani is married to a pharmacist from his home town, Daniela Ferrari, and the couple have two daughters.