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Italy

Italian political star Renzi aims for prime minister's office

Matteo Renzi's positions as the head of the Democratic Party and mayor of Florence led him to the job that is now within reach: Italy's prime minister. If he gets the nod, he'll have to cobble together a coalition.

The Stafetta, or hand-off, had already been discussed for days in Italy's media, but the act itself went surprisingly quickly. A majority of members at a meeting of the Democratic Party (PD) on Thursday voted against Enrico Letta remaining in his position as Italy's prime minister. The inner-party revolt was led by Matteo Renzi, who has set his sights on becoming the new head of Italian government. Now that Letta on Friday handed in his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano, Renzi is one step closer to that goal.

The mayor of Florence, Renzi was recently elected party head and has spent weeks criticizing the Letta government as hesitant and unwilling to take on the tough reforms Italy needs. Now he has promised a dramatic change of course.

"All together, we have to pull ourselves out of the swamp," he said. "This is not about a handoff. It is not about continuing in the same direction but about changing the goal, the pace and the rhythm."

A media star

Giorgio Napolitano and Enrico Letta 
Photo: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Napolitano will decide on the next step for Italy

A man of strong words, Renzi is often the center of the media's attention, which he has used to move up the Italian political ladder. The 39-year-old is a political child of the Berlusconi-era who worked in his family's marketing agency where he learned how the media work. He presents himself as willing to dismantle the old party elite - a type of Tuscan Tony Blair. His quick rise in Italian politics is in no small part a result of the many editorials and articles written about him ever since he started his political experience as a supporter of Romano Prodi. Now all he needs is President Napolitano's blessing to move into the office he has always wanted.

Renzi already has the blessing of Silvio Berlusconi, who once wanted Renzi to join his center-right Forza Italia party. The two politicians met ahead of the PD's power struggle and a photo of them shaking hands landed in Italian newspapers. Officially, the meeting was to outline the framework for new election laws, but observers said it's likely the two also discussed the framework for a new government.

Berlusconi and Renzi belong to competing political camps, but both men are also regarded as being politically flexible and eager to put themselves in the spotlight. Renzi has said he wants to turn Italy into a start-up - "the most beautiful start-up the world has ever seen."

Elections don't solve problems

Silvio Berlusconi
Photo: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/Files

Renzi tried to get Berlusconi to join the PD

Renzi, who once said he had no intention of removing Letta from power, is likely to be Italy's third prime minister - after Mario Monti and Letta - since 2011 to take office without being elected. However, Renzi has said new elections to decide who should lead Italy would be a mistake.

"You could think that elections would have a cleaning effect, but there is one slight disadvantage: in the current situation, they would not solve any of the problems we face."

Reserved reaction

Having heard many empty promises from politicians in recent years, Italians have reservations about the prospects of a Renzi government. "When Renzi bacame party head, he should have stepped down as mayor of Florence," a woman in Grosseto said. "Instead he is just collecting positions like all politicians."

Renzi will need more than speeches to break through that kind of resignation. But just as important as having actions follow his words, he'll need a majority of votes in Italy's Chamber of Deputies and the Senate - or the political infighting is likely to continue.

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