Sunday, February 19

Will Italy’s ruling party be able to come together to prevent a calamitous split?

SCHISM AFOOT? ITALY’S RULING PARTY

Photo: Cosima Scavolini/Splash News/Corbis

Photo: Cosima Scavolini/Splash News/Corbis

Leaders of Italy’s ruling Democratic Party (PD) will meet on Sunday to discuss Matteo Renzi’s plan to hold early elections. But with severe internal divisions over the plan and future direction of the centre-left PD, a party split could be in the offing.

Renzi, the party’s leader, stood down as prime minister in December after a failed referendum. Now he wants to hold a party vote to reaffirm his leadership in preparation for a general election in late 2017.

But Mr Renzi’s plan faces stiff resistance from inside the PD. Another former PM, Massimo D’Alema, is leading the charge to stop Renzi from retaining leadership of the party and calling early elections. Mr D’Alema says Matteo Renzi’s leadership style is too high-handed and his policies are too friendly to big business. He’s threatened to form a rival political party with his cadres on the left wing of the PD if early elections are called.

A recent poll suggested that D’Alema’s exit would reduce the party’s support by around half, which would be disastrous for the PD and a boon for their nearest political rivals – the populist Five Star Movement.

Matteo Renzi will have to proceed with caution if he wants to reclaim Italy’s top job.

Go deeper: Reign or resign?

LENIN AND GUILLERMO: ECUADOR’S ELECTION

Photo: API

Photo: API

Ecuadorians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president and parliament. After three terms and more than a decade in power, President Rafael Correa is constitutionally limited from seeking another. This is despite a reform law being passed last year that does away with term limits – the country’s opposition, which controls the parliament, made sure the law comes into effect the day after Mr Correa steps down.

Lenin Moreno has been chosen as the banner bearer for Correa’s left-wing PAIS Alliance. A former vice president, Moreno espouses the same sort of expansionary socialism Correa was known for, promising to build more housing and provide more benefits for the poor. But the leftist candidate has been hurt by revelations of exuberant spending while in public office, racking up a travel bill of $3.9 million between 2007 and 2013.

Moreno’s main rival will be the centre-right’s Guillermo Lasso, a former banker. Lasso challenged for the presidency in 2013 but lost badly. He’s promised to roll back many of the socialist policies implemented by Correa, setting out a list of 14 taxes he wants to abolish.

A second-round vote will be held in April if no candidate wins at least 40% of the vote and also has a 10-point margin over the next challenger. Mr Moreno’s opinion poll dominance is clear; it’s the 10-point margin that could be his undoing as a runoff would result in the opposition vote coalescing around Mr Lasso.

Whoever wins on Sunday will face an economy mired in recession and a large budget deficit that’s fuelling public debt. But with term limits gone and an approval rating to be proud of, this won’t be the last the world hears about Rafael Correa; he’s hinted strongly that he’ll run again in 2021.

Go deeper: The pink tide continues to recede

TROOP DRAWDOWN IN GAMBIA

Photo: Nigerian Air Force

Photo: Nigerian Air Force

Forces from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will begin pulling out of Gambia on Sunday after intervening last month to ensure the orderly departure of former President Yahya Jammeh. The bloc is expected to reduce troop numbers from 7,000 to 500.

Saturday marked Adama Barrow’s official inauguration, bringing with it $239 million in funding from the European Union. Last week, the new president announced that, unlike his predecessor, he would not be pursuing Gambia’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court but rather would commit to the “promotion of human rights” under the court’s charter.

However, before Mr Barrow can realise his ambitions of making Gambia the “human rights capital of Africa”, he’ll need to drum up further international support to fill the country’s empty coffers. The ECOWAS troops that remain will be tasked with providing the stability necessary to pursue sustained economic activity.

 

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

A Chinese ban on coal imports from North Korea comes into effect and will last until Dec. 31. Beijing implemented a similar ban last year in response to tough new UN sanctions. North Korea is China’s third largest supplier of coal.