Anti-Berlusconi political movement _ “Purple People” _ gets traction ahead of regional vote

By Alessandra Rizzo, AP
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Purple power movement pressures Berlusconi

ROME — In Italian politics, purple is the new black.

The Purple People, a new movement born on the Internet, has emerged as a force ahead of important regional elections Sunday and Monday. Their stated aim: bring down Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Tens of thousands of purple-clad protesters have rallied in the capital in recent months, attracting the attention of opposition parties eager to jump on the bandwagon. Berlusconi himself organized a rally Saturday — just a week after the latest purple demonstration.

Analysts are trying to gauge what impact, if any, the protests might have on the outcome of the regional ballot, seen as a test of Berlusconi’s national support as he fights sex and corruption scandals.

The Purple People, who are not affiliated with any party, say they chose purple because it is not traditionally associated with politics, like red or blue.

They contend Berlusconi is undermining Italian democracy through his concentration of power and alleged use of his position to quash corruption probes.

While they spread their message on Twitter and Facebook, where the group has more than 257,000 fans, they very much operate in the real world.

In December, tens of thousands of people took part in their “No-B Day” demonstration. This month, amid banners of “Enough!” they gathered similar numbers in a Rome piazza to demand the Italian leader’s resignation.

“Purple is the color of the awakening of our consciences,” Fabio La Falce said during the March 13 demonstration.

“We want to be a movement outside of political parties, free of any political allegiance or symbol,” said the purple-clad, flag-waving La Falce.

Still, political parties are taking note. At the March rally, opposition leaders, including the secretary of the Democratic Party, were allowed to deliver speeches from the stage.

Berlusconi has stepped up his campaign, organizing his own rally and making several media appearances. The premier has been urging his supporters to go to the polls, seeking to avert the low turnout that marked recent regional balloting in France and was seen as hurting President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Nando Pagnoncelli, a top pollster, said he expected the Purple People protest to mobilize opposition voters.

But whether the frustration of the Purple People will translate into votes for the Democratic Party — which they often accuse of being too weak in its opposition to Berlusconi — or will instead go to more radical leftist groups, remains to be seen.

Largely, it will depend on the parties’ ability to meet the Purple People’s demands, such as their plea for ethics in politics, says Professor James Walston of the American University of Rome.

The Purple People “do have an ideology, they do have a sense of identity,” he said. “They want to act as a stimulus to the regular parties.”

will not be displayed