Matteo Renzi
Matteo Renzi Reuters

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.The French Socialist Party should therefore feel flattered by the decision of the Italian left to emulate the Socialist primary that preceded the Socialists electoral triumph.

Italy's Democratic Party, a descendant of the Italian Communist Party, ran an open primary in which anybody could place his name in nomination and vote. This was designed to give the winner the aura of the candidate of a united left and prevent fragmentation in the national elections. The primary attracted over 3 million voters, far more than the wildest hopes of the organizers.

The left is favored to win the next national elections, as the era of Silvio Berlusconi is essentially over and the center-right is feuding over the succession. Italy became part of the European debt crisis under Berlusconi, necessitating, for now, a technocratic government supported both by the right and left under Mario Monti.

The top two finishers in the first round of the primaries (a second round was necessitated as no candidate totaled 50% of the vote) were the 61-year-old party secretary Pier Luigi Bersani, who got 45% of the vote, while the mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi got 36% of the vote.

The 37 year old Renzi attempted to portray himself as the Italian version of Barack Obama. He attended Italy's Democratic National Convention. He then whistle-stopped in a camping van across Italy with the borrowed slogan "Let's change Italy now!" Renzi had to fight off charges that he was a conservative opportunist.

The winner of next Sunday's runoff will also emulate Francois Hollande by attempting to convince voters that he can persist with the economic reforms initiated under Mario Monti, while at the same time taking off the harsh edges of the austerity measures.