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Renzi risks revolt over Berlusconi talks

Left wing of party threatens to sink Letta govt in response

17 January, 20:02
Renzi risks revolt over Berlusconi talks (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, January 17 - Matteo Renzi, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), was warned Friday that he could face an internal revolt if he strikes a deal with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi over a new election law.

Renzi said this week he was considering meeting with the three-time premier to try to wrap up a deal on a new election system to replace the old one that was recently declared invalid by the Constitutional Court. The meeting may take place this weekend.

Critics in Renzi's own party have said talks with Forza Italia leader Berlusconi, who was handed a binding conviction last year and expelled from parliament, would help rehabilitate his marred image. One senior lawmaker who is close to Renzi's predecessor as PD chief, Pier Luigi Bersani, said many in the party would react angrily to a deal by bring down the government led by another party member, Premier Enrico Letta.

"If a Berlusconi-Renzi pact that excludes all the other (political parties) is sealed tomorrow, the government majority ends tomorrow," said PD MP Alfredo D'Attorre.

He added that parts of the PD would refuse to vote for a new election law modelled on the Spanish system, one of three proposals forwarded by Renzi and thought to be acceptable to Berlusconi.

"The Spanish system in an Italian sauce is Constitutionally and political impossible to vote for," D'Attorre said. Renzi has defended his position, saying it is only logical to try to get the agreement of the main opposition party for a new election law.

His drive to seek a deal with Berlusconi's party at the expense of other groups has caused problems for Letta's government as it has upset the the main junior partner on the coalition, the New Centre Right (NCD) of Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Angelino Alfano.

Renzi, who has kept tension high for Letta with repeated criticism of the government since winning a party leadership primary last month, shrugged of talk of divisions after D'Attorre's threat.

"It does not seem to me (that the PD is wobbling)," Renzi, the 39-year-old mayor of Florence who has been compared to the young Tony Blair, said via his Twitter account, @matteorenzi.

"We voted yesterday (at a party meeting), we're going to vote Monday. And, above all, we voted on December 8 (in the primary)". Renzi has denied wanting to pass a new election law quickly so that he can scupper Letta's executive and provoke a fresh vote, in the hope of winning and taking his party colleague's place at the helm of government.

But many, including some in the PD - the biggest group in parliament - have said they do not believe him. The executive has enjoyed little peace of late, with Renzi's criticism of its lack of progress on economic and institutional reforms causing continual friction.

Renzi and Letta reportedly had a heated exchange in a face-to-face meeting Thursday after the PD secretary gave the government a particularly hard pummeling at party meeting. "Recent reform efforts have been a list of failures: no electoral reforms, the idea of a major institutional reform was (blocked in parliament)," Renzi said.

Renzi said his criticism is aimed at stirring the government into action.

Three of the minor partners supporting Letta's executive on Friday called for talks to avert a government crisis.

A joint statement by the NCD and two small centrist parties, Civic Choice and the PPL, called for talks to prevent tension within the PD causing a crisis "into the unknown". Alfano visited President Giorgio Napolitano, who was instrumental in giving life to Letta's left-right government last year to end a long deadlock following February's inconclusive general election, to talk about the situation.

Based on an unnatural alliance between the PD and ex-premier Berlusconi's now defunct centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party, the government veered from one crisis to another for much of last year.

Letta said the government was stronger after it survived the defection of Berlusconi's party, which has been revamped under its former name Forza Italia, thanks to the support of a splinter group of moderate centre-right lawmakers led by Alfano.

But Renzi's approach has meant that, so far, Letta's hope of having a more steady environment to work in has been disappointed.