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New centre-left leader Renzi presents vision of change

Vows to spur govt toward reforms, 'no time to lose'

09 December, 20:22
New centre-left leader Renzi presents vision of change (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, December 9 - Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, newly elected head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), on Monday vowed to make PD Premier Enrico Letta's left-right government work for much-needed change. Renzi said framing a new electoral law to replace one struck down by the Constitutional Court last week was a priority.

His other two key policy points, which he campaigned on, are a jobs plan to cut record unemployment in Italy's longest postwar recession and one billion euros of cuts in the cost of a bloated political system. "The point is not to bring the government down but to make it work so that it achieves results and provides answers," Renzi said on his first outing since winning almost 70% in the PD's primary Sunday.

Nearly three million voters turned out, proving the rising star's charisma could contest with the prevailing anti-political malaise in the country. "Electoral reform is a priority, we have to fix the country's problems and so we have to stop putting things off and do the things that are needed," said the lively 38-year-old, who has been likened to a young Tony Blair.

Renzi said he was "thrilled" but would not waste "one minute" in attaining the "change of pace" Italian voters are craving.

"I feel a responsibility, the task is difficult and I feel emotional, but above all, I feel the necessity to immediately send signals," about the new direction he wants the party to take, said Renzi.

One of the signals was forming a staff of policymakers dominated by seven women, versus five men. Renzi said his economic pointman would work on an agenda to be enacted "through 2014".

The new PD leader played down speculation that he might pull the plug on Letta's alliance with the New Centre Right (NCD) if it does not produce results soon. "We will work well together," the Renzi and Letta said in a statement after meeting Monday. "The meeting was long, positive and fruitful, confirming our common goal".

Shortly after, Letta's office tweeted a picture of the two smiling at the meeting. Beforehand, Renzi appeared to suggest he himself might quit unless change was achieved fast enough.

"If someone isn't working he has to go home. In the event of failure, you have to take the consequences," he told his first press conference as leader, before formally taking the reins from caretaker Guglielmo Epifani at a party assembly next Sunday.

Letta faces a confidence vote Wednesday on a new reform agenda for the new PD-NCD coalition, which emerged last month after the NCD split with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi on sinking the broad coalition with Berlusconi's now-defunct People of Freedom (PdL) party that ended two months of post-election stalemate in April.

The three-time premier, set to serve the remainder of a one-year sentence for tax fraud, is running his revived Forza Italia (FI) party from outside parliament after being banned for six years and expelled from the Senate because of a tax-fraud conviction.

The FI leader is expected to be Renzi's main rival in the next election, even though he himself will not be able to stand for the premiership.

In the meantime Renzi remains the mayor of Florence and does not occupy a seat in parliament or Letta's cabinet. He is not the only rising star who took the helm of his party over the weekend. Matteo Salvini, 40, was elected as the new national secretary of Italy's Northern League, beating Umberto Bossi, the founder of the anti-immigrant, regionalist party.