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Letta quits as premier, Renzi poised to step in

'New government risky, but makes sense' says PD chief

13 February, 20:16
Letta quits as premier, Renzi poised to step in (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, February 13 - Italian Premier Enrico Letta announced his resignation Thursday amid insurmountable opposition expressed within his own Democratic Party (PD), stirred by its leader Matteo Renzi who now stands to take over the government.

"I have informed the president of my desire to tender my resignation as premier tomorrow," said the outgoing premier, who is expected to do so following a cabinet meeting at 11:30 local time Friday.

In his 10-month tenure marked by frustrating reform efforts and instability on all fronts, Letta struggled to hold together two fractious and unprecedented left-right coalitions. It is now up to President Giorgio Napolitano to present a new government-formation mandate.

A crunch PD meeting called by Renzi overwhelmingly backed him to lead a new government earlier on Thursday.

The executive of the center-left PD, Italy's largest party, voted by 136 votes to 16 with two abstentions to back a new government led by the dynamic young Florence mayor. Renzi, who at 39 would become Italy's youngest-ever premier and the fourth in just over two years, has vowed to "recharge the government's batteries". The PD leader, who has been likened to a young Tony Blair and is expected to get a parliamentary OK after a mandate from Napolitano, would be Italy's third straight non-elected premier.

The power play has exposed Renzi to accusations of hypocrisy after his repeated insistence on wishing to become premier through the electoral process, and not through the sort of back-room deals that typified Italy's revolving-door politics through much of the postwar era. But on Wednesday the president ruled out holding elections at this stage, leaving Letta few immediate options in his ascent to power. "A new government is a risky option, but it makes sense if you have the courage to say to Europe that the aim is to get to 2018 with electoral and Constitutional reforms and change the rules," the mayor of Florence told the PD meeting Friday. Renzi went on to thank Letta for his service to the country since becoming premier after inconclusive elections early last year that led to two months of deadlock.

Due to the unnatural left-right makeup of his coalition, Letta's leadership was imperiled early on by ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, who threatened to tank the executive up until being ousted from parliament in late 2013 over a binding supreme court conviction for tax fraud. Harrying soon followed from Renzi, who argued the center-right powerhouse's absence meant Letta was out of excuses with regard to reforms to revamp election laws and jumpstart the economy after the country's worst recession since World War II and record youth unemployment. At a meeting between the pair Wednesday, Letta was reportedly offered a role in a Renzi cabinet, either as economy or foreign minister, which he flatly refused, sources said. On Thursday Renzi said such a "passing of the baton" was out of the question, since that only happens "when you're going in the same direction with the same intensity, not when you're trying to change the pace". Looking forward, Renzi said he wanted to pull Italy out of the "quagmire".

"If Italy calls for radical change, the PD will deliver this change, or no one else will".

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