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Renzi primed for centre-left leadership challenge

Florence mayor wants to change chaos-hit Democratic Party

22 April, 17:09
Renzi primed for centre-left leadership challenge (By Paul Virgo) (ANSA) - Rome, April 22 - Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi has said he is ready to challenge for the leadership of the Democratic Party (PD) in order to change the chaos-hit centre-left party and Italy as a whole.

The PD is in turmoil after Pier Luigi Bersani stepped down as party secretary following internal revolts that scuppered the chances of two candidates he had proposed to be Italy's head of state last week.

That forced the PD, the biggest party in parliament after February's inconclusive general election, to ask 87-year-old President Giorgio Napolitano to agree to serve a second term as it seemed incapable of uniting behind any other candidate.

Napolitano became Italy's first president to be re-elected on Saturday after winning the votes of lawmakers and regional representatives of the PD, ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, the Northern League and outgoing Premier Mario Monti's Civic Choice group.

"My ambition is to change Italy and change a party that reflects its centre," Renzi said in an interview in Monday's edition of Rome-based daily La Repubblica.

The PD, which came first in February's vote but failed to win a working majority in the Senate after Bersani conducted a colourless campaign, is expected to be headed by a committee of caretaker leaders until a congress is held later in the year to elect a new secretary. Renzi, a telegenic 38-year-old who has been compared to the young Tony Blair and came second in the centre-left's premier-candidate primary in December, is currently the country's most popular politician, according to opinion polls.

But he is viewed with suspicion by many in the PD itself after a long campaign for the old guard of Italian politics to be "scrapped".

Lawmakers close to him led the rebellion against the first presidential candidate Bersani proposed, former Senate Speaker Franco Marini.

He also publicly criticised Bersani's handling of Italy's post-election impasse many times. Bersani failed in a bid to reach out to the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), which holds the balance of power in the Senate.

He also refused to consider forming a broad coalition government with the PdL, while at the same time rejecting calls for another vote, saying that this would be equally inconclusive under the current election law.

Renzi, on the other hand, said the PD should have opened talks with Berlusconi or called for a snap election.

"Renzi has an uncontrolled level of ambition," said Marini, who comes from the Catholic wing of the PD.

"Sometimes he doesn't know what he's saying, he just tries to make headlines in the newspapers. If he doesn't moderate this ambition, he will finish up off the road". The PD is now expected to support a so-called government of the president, which would also be backed by the PdL, Civic Choice and possibly the Northern League, with a limited mandate to pass some key reforms, including a new electoral law.

However, there is speculation that some PD left-wingers are opposed to having any sort of cooperation with Berlusconi and may split from the party if it takes part in such a broad coalition government.

The Florence mayor said he was ready to present a project for "new reformism" to the party.

"The PD is in a corner," he added. "It either comes out of it or it will blow up".