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Letta set to resign, Renzi primed for premiership bid

Napolitano may give Florence mayor mandate after party talks

14 February, 10:39
Letta set to resign, Renzi primed for premiership bid (ANSA) - Rome, February 14 - Premier Enrico Letta was set to resign Friday with his Democratic Party (PD) leader Matteo Renzi primed for a bid to become Italy's youngest government head.

The PD on Thursday backed Renzi, 39, to try to form a new government after the dynamic Florence mayor said it was time to pull Italy out of a "morass" of stalled reforms and economic woes including record unemployment.

Renzi has said he wants the next government to last until the end of the parliamentary term in 2018, giving it time to enact a seeping agenda to change the face of Italy.

"This is one of the best moments in my life," Renzi told reporters at a Florence St Valentine's Day ceremony with couples marking 50 years of marriage.

Renzi, whose relationship with Letta became increasingly fraught since he was elected PD head in December, thanked Letta for his "remarkable" work in keeping fiscal order but said he had failed to deliver on promises of a new electoral law and stronger stimulus for an economy slowly emerging from its longest postwar recession.

Letta, 47, will tender his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano, who has previously said he would abide by the PD's wishes.

The head of State is expected to hand Renzi a mandate to form a government after talks with all political parties, which may begin as early as Friday evening, pundits say.

The New Centre Right (NCD), Letta's junior partner, has said it will not support a government that is "too left-wing," despite the centrist credentials of Renzi, whose political roots can be traced back to the once-dominant Christian Democrat party, destroyed by the Bribesville scandals of the early 1990s.

Renzi, currently Italy's most popular politician, has said he models himself on Britain's Tony Blair, the Labour leader who reached out to the centre to make Labour electable after years of Thatcher-inspired Conservative dominance.

In order to govern, Renzi would need the votes of the NCD, a splinter group formed last year when ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi revived his Forza Italia (FI) party after failing to bring Letta down when the PD insisted on enforcing the media magnate's ban from office resulting from a tax-fraud conviction.

FI, which the ever-popular Berlusconi is rebuilding despite his ban, has said Letta should go before parliament to see if he has enough votes to carry on despite the PD executive's overwhelming support for a Renzi-led administration.

The PD's make-up in parliament is different from that in the executive, with fewer outright Renzi loyalists.

But Renzi is still hot favourite to become premier.

His priorities include a new election law to replace one ruled unconstitutional and blamed for the inconclusive result of last February's general election, which forced the PD into an unnatural and fractious alliance with Berlusconi.

Renzi also wants to jump start the economy to help increasingly impoverished families and create jobs, with more than 12% of Italians out of work and youth unemployment stubbornly above 40%.

He has also vowed to streamline government and cut the costs of one of the world's dearest political systems after a stream of funding scandals that have estranged voters.

His plans would entail changes to the Constitution, requiring years of work, to save money by abolishing provincial administrations, returning many powers from the regions to Rome, and turning the Senate from a clone of the House into a chamber made up of 150 city mayors, governors and civil-society representatives, rather than the current 315 elected members. The Senate currently has the same lawmaking powers as the House and an election winner has to get a majority in both houses in order to govern.

The PD fell short of a Senate majority a year ago, leading to two months of stalemate before Napolitano was called out of retirement to become Italy's first re-elected president and midwife the unprecedented left-right coalition. Renzi last month reached a deal with Berlusconi - and was accused by some for bringing the scandal-hit three-time premier back onto centre stage - for a new election law to replace the dysfunctional system that was thrown out by the Constitutional Court in December.

The package, which is currently being examined in parliament, 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 an unassailable majority.

The House agreed to postpone voting on the bill until February 18 in light of the rising tensions between Letta and Renzi, which the Italian media claimed were fuelled by mutual antipathy.