Italian Liberal Party
Partito Liberale Italiano
LeadersGiovanni Giolitti
Luigi Facta
Benedetto Croce
Luigi Einaudi
Enrico De Nicola
Manlio Brosio
Bruno Villabruna
Gaetano Martino
Giovanni Malagodi
Valerio Zanone
Alfredo Biondi
Renato Altissimo
Raffaele Costa
Founded8 October 1922
Dissolved6 February 1994
Preceded byLiberal Union
Succeeded byFederation of Liberals[1]
(legal successor)
Union of the Centre[1]
Youth wingItalian Liberal Youth
Membership (1958)173,722 (max)[2]
Conservative liberalism
Classical liberalism[9][10]
Political positionCentre[15] to centre-right[16][17]
National affiliationNational Bloc (1922–24)
National List (1924–26)
CLN (1943–47)
UDN (1946–48)
National Bloc (1948–49)
Centrism (1947–58)
Pentapartito[18] (1980–91)
Quadripartito (1991–94)
European affiliationELDR Party
International affiliationLiberal International
European Parliament groupELDR Group
Colours  Blue

The Italian Liberal Party (Italian: Partito Liberale Italiano, PLI) was a liberal and conservative political party in Italy.

The PLI, which is the heir of the liberal currents of both the Historical Right and the Historical Left, was a minor party after World War II, but also a frequent junior party in government, especially since 1979. The party disintegrated in 1994 following the fallout of the Tangentopoli corruption scandal, succeeded by several minor parties.



See also: Liberalism and radicalism in Italy

The origins of liberalism in Italy are in the Historical Right, a parliamentary group formed by Camillo Benso di Cavour in the Parliament of the Kingdom of Sardinia following the 1848 revolution. The group was moderately conservative and supported centralised government, restricted suffrage, regressive taxation, and free trade. They dominated politics following Italian unification in 1861 but never formed a party, basing their power on census suffrage and a first-past-the-post voting system.

The Right was opposed by its more progressive counterpart, the Historical Left, which overthrew Marco Minghetti's government during the so-called "Parliamentary Revolution" of 1876, which brought Agostino Depretis to become Prime Minister. However, Depretis immediately began to look for support among Rightists MPs, who readily changed their positions, in a context of widespread corruption. This phenomenon, known in Italian as trasformismo (roughly translatable in English as "transformism" — in a satirical newspaper, the PM was depicted as a chameleon), effectively removed political differences in Parliament, which was dominated by an undistinguished liberal bloc with a landslide majority until World War I.

Two parliamentary factions alternated in government, one led by Sidney Sonnino and the other, by far the largest of the two, by Giovanni Giolitti. The latter was known as Liberal Union since 1913 and was finally also re-joined by Sonnino. At that time the Liberals governed in alliance with the Radicals, the Democrats and, eventually, the Reformist Socialists.[19]

The brief party

Giovanni Giolitti, five-time Prime Minister of Italy (1892–1921)
Giovanni Giolitti, five-time Prime Minister of Italy (1892–1921)

At the end of World War I, universal suffrage and proportional representation were introduced. These reforms caused big problems to the Liberals, which found themselves unable to stop the rise of two mass parties, the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) and the Italian People's Party (PPI), which had taken the control of many local authorities in northern Italy even before the war. The Catholic PPI opposed the PSI, but also the Liberals and, generally, the Right, under the consequences of the capture of Rome and the struggles between the Holy See and the Italian state which the Liberals had ruled for more than fifty years.

The Parliament was thus divided in three different blocks with huge instability, while the Socialists and the rising Fascists instigators of political violence on opposite sides. In this chaotic situation, the Liberals founded the Italian Liberal Party (PLI) in 1922, which immediately joined an alliance led by Fascists and formed with them a joint list for the 1924 general election, transforming the Fascists from a small political force into an absolute-majority party. The PLI was banned by Benito Mussolini in 1926, while many old Liberal politicians were given prestigious, but not influential, political posts, such as seats in the Senate, which was stripped of any real power by Fascist reforms.

Post World War II

Luigi Einaudi, President of Italy from 1948 to 1955
Luigi Einaudi, President of Italy from 1948 to 1955

The PLI was re-founded in 1943 by Benedetto Croce, a prominent intellectual and senator whose international recognition and parliamentary membership allowed him to remain a free man during the Fascist regime, despite being an anti-fascist himself. After the end of World War II, Enrico De Nicola, a Liberal, became "Provisional Head of State" and another one, Luigi Einaudi, who as Minister of Economy and Governor of the Bank of Italy between 1945 and 1948 had reshaped Italian economy, succeeded him as President of Italy.

In the 1946 general election the PLI, contesting the vote as part of the National Democratic Union, won 6.8% of the vote, which was somewhat below expectations. Indeed, the party was supported by all the survivors of the Italian political class before the rise of Fascism, from Vittorio Emanuele Orlando to Francesco Saverio Nitti. In the first years, the party was led by Leone Cattani, member of the internal left, and then by Roberto Lucifero, a monarchist-conservative. This fact caused the exit of the group of Cattani and Bruno Villabruna, a moderate, was elected secretary in 1948 to re-unite all the Liberals under a single banner.

Giovanni Malagodi

Giovanni Malagodi, Liberal leader from 1954 to 1972
Giovanni Malagodi, Liberal leader from 1954 to 1972

Under the leadership of Giovanni Malagodi (1954–1972) the party moved further to the right on economic issues. This caused in 1956 the exit of the party's left-wing, including Bruno Villabruna, Eugenio Scalfari and Marco Pannella, who founded the Radical Party. In particular, the PLI opposed the new centre-left coalition which also included the Italian Socialist Party, and presented itself as the main conservative party in Italy.

Malagodi managed to draw some votes from the Italian Social Movement, the Monarchist National Party and especially Christian Democracy, whose electoral base was also composed of conservatives suspicious of the Socialists, increasing the party's share to a historical record of 7.0% in the 1963 general election. After Malagodi's resignation from the party's leadership, the PLI was defeated with a humiliating 1.3% in the 1976 election, but tried to re-gain strength by supporting social reforms such as divorce.

The Pentapartito

After Valerio Zanone took over as party secretary in 1976, the PLI adopted a more centrist and, to some extent, social-liberal approach. The new secretary opened to the Socialists, hoping to put in action a sort of Lib–Lab cooperation, similar to that experimented in the United Kingdom from 1977 to 1979 between the Labour Party and the Liberals. In 1983 the PLI finally joined the pentapartito coalition composed also of the Christian Democracy (DC), the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), the Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI) and the Italian Republican Party (PRI). In the 1980s the party was led by Renato Altissimo and Alfredo Biondi.

With the uncovering of the corruption system nicknamed Tangentopoli by the Mani pulite investigation, many government parties experienced a rapid loss of their support. In the first months the PLI seemed immune to investigation. However, as the investigations further unravelled, the party turned out to be part of the corruption scheme. Francesco De Lorenzo, the Liberal Minister of Health, was one of the most loathed politicians in Italy for his corruption, that involved stealing funds from the sick, and allowing commercialisation of medicines based on bribes.

Dissolution and diaspora

The party was disbanded on 6 February 1994 and at least four heirs tried to take its legacy:

In a few years after 1994, most Liberals migrated to FI, while others joined the centre-left coalition, especially Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy (DL).


Main article: Italian Liberal Party (1997)

The party was re-founded in 1997 by Stefano De Luca and re-took its original name in 2004. The new PLI gathered some of the former right-wing Liberals, but soon distanced itself from the centre-right coalition, led by FI, to follow an autonomous path.

Popular support

Before World Wars the Liberals constituted the political establishment that governed Italy for decades. They had their main bases in Piedmont, where many leading liberal politicians of the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of Italy came from, and southern Italy. The Liberals never gained large support after World War II as they were not able to become a mass party and were replaced by Christian Democracy (DC) as the dominant political force. In the 1946 general election, the first after the war, the PLI gained 6.8% as part of the National Democratic Union. At that time they were strong especially in the South, as DC was mainly rooted in the North: 21.0% in Campania, 22.8% in Basilicata, 10.4% in Apulia, 12.8% in Calabria and 13.6% in Sicily.[20]

However, the party soon found its main constituency in the industrial elites of the "industrial triangle" formed by Turin, Milan and Genoa. The PLI had its best results in the 1960s, when it was rewarded by conservative voters for their opposition to the participation of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) in government. The party won 7.0% of the vote in 1963 (15.2% in Turin, 18.7% in Milan and 11.5% in Genoa) and 5.8% 1963. The PLI suffered a decline in the 1970s and settled around 2–3% in the 1980s, when its strongholds were reduced to Piedmont, especially the provinces of Torino and Cuneo, and, to a minor extent, western Lombardy, Liguria and Sicily.[21]

As the other parties of the pentapartito coalition (Christian Democrats, Socialists, Republicans and Democratic Socialists), the Liberals strengthened their grip on the South, while in the North they lost some of their residual votes to Lega Nord and its precursors. In the 1992 general election, the last before the Tangentopoli scandals, the PLI won 2.9% of the vote, largely thanks to the increase of votes from the South.[21] After the end of the "First Republic" former Liberals were very influential within Forza Italia (FI) in Piedmont, Liguria and, strangely enough, in Veneto, where Giancarlo Galan was three times elected President.

The electoral results of the PLI in general (Chamber of Deputies) and European Parliament elections since 1913 are shown in the chart below.

Electoral results

Italian Parliament

Chamber of Deputies
Election year Votes % Seats +/− Leader
1919 490,384 (5th) 8.6
41 / 508
1921 470,605 (5th) 7.1
43 / 535
Increase 3
1924 233,521 (6th) 3.3
15 / 535
Decrease 28
1929 Banned
0 / 535
Decrease 15
1934 Banned
0 / 535
1946 1,560,638 (4th)[22] 6.8
31 / 535
Increase 31
1948 1,003,727 (4th)[23] 3.8
14 / 574
Decrease 17
1953 815,929 (7th) 3.0
13 / 590
Decrease 1
1958 1,047,081 (6th) 3.5
17 / 596
Increase 4
1963 2,144,270 (4th) 7.0
39 / 630
Increase 22
1968 1,850,650 (4th) 5.8
31 / 630
Decrease 8
1972 1,300,439 (6th) 3.9
20 / 630
Decrease 11
1976 480,122 (8th) 1.3
5 / 630
Decrease 15
1979 712,646 (8th) 1.9
9 / 630
Increase 4
1983 1,066,980 (7th) 2.9
16 / 630
Increase 7
1987 809,946 (9th) 2.1
11 / 630
Decrease 5
1992 1,121,264 (8th) 2.9
17 / 630
Increase 6
Senate of the Republic
Election year Votes % Seats +/− Leader
1948 1,222,419 (4th)[24] 5.4
7 / 237
Increase 7
1953 695,816 (7th) 2.9
3 / 237
Decrease 5
1958 1,012,610 (6th) 3.9
4 / 246
Increase 1
1963 2,043,323 (4th) 7.4
18 / 315
Increase 14
1968 1,943,795 (4th) 6.8
16 / 315
Decrease 2
1972 1,319,175 (6th) 4.4
8 / 315
Decrease 8
1976 438,265 (8th) 1.4
2 / 315
Decrease 6
1979 691,718 (8th) 2.2
2 / 315
1983 834,771 (7th) 2.7
6 / 315
Increase 4
1987 700,330 (9th) 2.2
3 / 315
Decrease 3
1992 939,159 (8th) 2.8
4 / 315
Increase 1

European Parliament

European Parliament
Election year Votes % Seats +/− Leader
1979 1,271,159 (7th) 3.6
3 / 81
1984 2,140,501 (5th)[a] 6.1
3 / 81
1989 1,532,388 (5th)[b] 4.4
0 / 81
Decrease 3
  1. ^ Jointly with the PRI.
  2. ^ Jointly with the PRI and Marco Pannella.




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  23. ^ Result of the National Bloc coalition with the Common Man's Front.
  24. ^ Result of the National Bloc coalition with the Common Man's Front and Independents; plus non-partisan candidates.