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Renzi ruffles feathers in drive for new election law

Center-left boss defends possible sit-down with Berlusconi

16 January, 20:12
Renzi ruffles feathers in drive for new election law (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, January 16 - Matteo Renzi, the head of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), on Thursday used his first party meeting since being elected leader to blast the Italian government for lagging on key electoral and institutional reforms. "Recent reform efforts have been a list of failures: no electoral reforms, the idea of a major institutional reform was (blocked in parliament). For several years cabinet members have abandoned the idea altogether. The PD risks losing credibility," said the 39-year-old mayor of Florence. Even before his overwhelming victory at party primaries in December, the charismatic politician has harbored open ambitions of one day becoming premier himself. Recently, some have accused him of wanting that day to come sooner than later, at the expense of the current left-right coalition headed by his fellow PD member, Premier Enrico Letta. Likened to a young Tony Blair, the charismatic Renzi has fomented friction in Letta's cabinet of late with accusations of inaction and calls for the PD to dictate terms to members from other parties of the center right.

Furthermore, many of his supporters have said the Letta government should replace some of its cabinet with Renzi loyalists, given his impressive primary victory. But Renzi himself reiterated his opposition to that idea at the PD meeting. "Those proposing a reshuffle (of the cabinet) are missing the point," he said. It's not a question of swapping two ministers with two Renzi supporters but of "creating a system of government that lasts for the next 20 years". Renzi was also careful not to distance himself too much from the PD-led government many claim he hopes will fall so he can mount his own official election campaign. "I'm the only one in the PD who's never put a time limit on the government," he said. "I've always said it should go forward so long as it's getting results.

"My personal aim is not to play a game of intrigue around the palace of power to be able to have new elections and take Enrico's place. "If the government does well, it deserves compliments. If not, you criticise it and it's not part of a secret design. "The criticism isn't to be able to take over, but to give a hand (to Letta)".

Reflecting on the criticism, Letta's defended his government's achievements in the nine months since it was founded, overcoming what many predicted would be a failed government before the end of 2014 given its tense, unprecedented left-right makeup. After inconclusive elections in February, the country remained without a government for two months before left and right parties agreed to make Letta their leader, dividing up other ministry posts among them. "(The period marked) one of the most complex and troubled times in recent history, which this government has overcome," added Letta. Since the Constitutional Court ruled late last year that the law that led to those election outcomes was unconstitutional, the government is now tasked with coming up with a new one. Letta said he was "confident in a positive result from this opportune and courageous initiative Renzi has launched surrounding election reform". Renzi also used the PD meeting to shoot down criticism surrounding him possibly engaging in cross-party talks with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi. "The controversy surrounding talks with (Berlusconi's center-right) Forza Italia is ludicrous," he said. On Wednesday Renzi said he was considering meeting with the three-time premier to discuss election reforms, as he has done with other party leaders. Critics in Renzi's own PD have said talks with Berlusconi, who was handed a binding conviction last year and expelled from parliament, would help rehabilitate his marred image. "This controversy of meeting with a convicted felon is outrageous. (Berlusconi) was a founder of the current government, and I didn't see any ministers step down when he was convicted," he said. After coming in second at elections last February, Berlusconi's now-defunct People of Freedom (PdL) party was a part of the coalition until pulling its support and disbanding in November.

Renzi has emphasized that he remains the head of "the second-largest party in the country". Political pundits say a meeting is possibly in store as soon as Saturday, at PD offices in Rome.