The Populars are the heirs of the Italian People's Party, a Christian-democratic party of the Christian left, and of the left-wing of the late Christian Democracy. In 2002–2007 the Populars, led by Franco Marini and Ciriaco De Mita, were the majority faction within Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy, before merging into the PD. In the 2007 Democratic Party primary election around 600 Populars were elected to the party Constituent Assembly.
Leading members of the association include Dario Franceschini (Deputy Secretary of the party under Walter Veltroni and, later, Secretary), Franco Marini (former President of the Senate), Giuseppe Fioroni (former Minister of Education), Antonello Soro (former President of the parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies) and Pierluigi Castagnetti, while Ciriaco De Mita abandoned the PD over disagreements with party leader Walter Veltroni in early 2008. Also Rosy Bindi and Enrico Letta, leaders of Democrats Really and the 360 Association respectively, are members. The membership of Bindi and Letta is an evidence of the fact that The Populars, albeit being united on some issues such as the refusal to join the Party of European Socialists, are increasingly a loose group.
In this respect Franceschini and Fioroni set up a more reliable faction called Fourth Phase. This name was chosen to identify the new stage of left-wing Catholics in Italian politics, the first three being within the Italian People's Party (1919–1926), the Christian Democracy (1943–1994) and the Italian People's Party (1994–2002) respectively, and the fourth the current one, with the Democratic Party.
As of January 2009 the organization of the new faction was completed: Antonello Giacomelli was elected president of the faction, which counts almost 90 Democrat MPs. However also Franceschini and Fioroni, who is the real leader of the group and the heir of Marini, had their differences, the first being a keen supporter of Walter Veltroni and the second more interested in unifying former Christian Democrats and Catholics in general within the party, including the Theo-Dems, the Ulivists, the followers of Bindi, the Lettiani and the Social Christians.
After the resignation of Veltroni as party secretary and its replacement with Franceschini, the Populars of Fourth Phase chose to support Franceschini in the 2009 Democratic Party leadership election, while Letta and Bindi, as well as most Ulivists and the Social Christians, supported Pier Luigi Bersani. The latter won and most Veltroniani thus joined Democratic Area, the united minority faction led by Franceschini.
Since that Franceschini had re-approached with Bersani, Veltroni organized a "movement" outside Democratic Area, which was joined by 35 Populars led by Fioroni. Veltroni's new faction was named Democratic Movement. This caused a split between the Populars loyal to Franceschini and those loyal to Fioroni. The future of Fourth Phase is thus unclear.
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