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Letta govt's destiny to be set in next two weeks

PD leader Renzi hikes pressure on weak administration

07 February, 20:07
Letta govt's destiny to be set in next two weeks (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, February 7 - The fate of Premier Enrico Letta's left-right coalition government is set to be decided in the next two weeks after the new leader of his centre-left Democratic Party (PD), Matteo Renzi, further racked up the pressure on the shaky administration.

Renzi, the energetic 39-year-old mayor of Florence, has been harrying the PD-led government to accelerate on much-needed reforms since winning a party leadership primary with a landslide in December.

At a party meeting on Thursday, Renzi recalled that his PD colleague Letta has set his executive an 18-month deadline to pass a new election law and other reforms aimed at making Italy easier to govern and reducing the cost of the country's political apparatus when it was sworn in last year.

He pointed out that, 10 months into that, little has been achieved.

He said the PD, the biggest party in parliament, will decide what its position is with regards to the government at what is set to be a crunch meeting on February 20.

Letta's government has failed to find stability despite surviving the defection of Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party in November shortly before the ex-premier was ejected from parliament following a definitive tax-fraud conviction.

Letta, who travelled to Sochi Friday for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, said he was not interested in "treading water".

There is speculation that Renzi could take over as premier, even though he has always said he wanted to take the helm of government after winning elections and not as a result of a pact between parties like the one that saw Letta come to power after last year's inconclusive general election.

Another possibility is that Italy will return to the polls for early elections later this year.

There is also the hypothesis of Letta's administration being reinforced with a cabinet reshuffled incorporating Renzi loyalists.

The junior partners in the ruling coalition have been calling for this to reflect the new political balance of power after the PD primary and force Renzi to invest in the executive.

A key factor in the outcome of the February 20 meeting will be the progress in parliament of a bill for a new election law, based on a deal struck between Renzi and Berlusconi last month.

The bill sets bars for small parties to force them into alliances and limit their power of veto and a 15% winner's bonus for a coalition that gets 37% or more to ensure it has a working majority.

It is set to replace a dysfunctional system that was declared unconstitutional in December. Despite raising the pressure on Letta, Renzi reiterated on Friday that he does not want to scupper the government, but wants to help it break down the inertia that has long been a weakness of the Italian political system to pass the institutional reforms. "A general election would be in my interests but not in Italy's," said Renzi, who is Italy's most popular politician with an approval rating of 55%, according to an Ixe' poll published Friday.

"We are a step away from a historic reform".

Renzi also has an agreement with Berlusconi to reform parliament by stripping the Senate of its lawmaking powers to make it easier to pass legislation and to turn the Upper House into a chamber made up of 150 city mayors, governors and civil-society representatives, rather than the current 315 elected members.

The PD leader and the 77-year-old billionaire also have an agreement to change the Constitution to scrap Italy's provincial governments, and hand back regional powers to Rome, to save money. Industry Minister Flavio Zanonato, a PD member, said Friday that the government had done well considering "the situation and its limits", but admitted he was "not optimistic" about its future.

Another senior PD man, Cesare Damiano, said Letta risked meeting "the fate of General Custer at Little Bighorn".