Rome

Renzi, Bersani clash over alliances before primary runoff

Centre-left candidate will be in strong position to become PM

Renzi, Bersani clash over alliances before primary runoff

Rome, November 29 - Democratic Party (PD) leader Pier Luigi Bersani and Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi clashed over election alliances in a televised debate ahead of Sunday's centre-left primary run-off. The winner of the primary has a good chance of being Premier Mario Monti's successor as the PD are leading in the opinion polls ahead of next spring's national elections. Both candidates pledged to broadly continue with the policies Monti's emergency technocrat government has pursued to enable Italy to move out of the centre of the eurozone crisis. "I think we all feel we have to go a little beyond the Monti experience, without renouncing discipline or credibility... but also seek a bit more fairness and more work," Bersani said. Renzi, a 37-year-old who presents himself as a modernizer, was seen by many pundits as giving the more assured display in Wednesday's debate. This will not necessarily enable him to overcome the 9% deficit he had when he finished second to Bersani in the first round of the primary, in which three other candidates also ran. Renzi was seen by many as having performed best too in a five-way debate before the first round. Wednesday's discussion was mostly calm and amicable, although there were moments of tension, especially over the alliances the PD may form before the election. Renzi was critical of Bersani's pledge to seek alliances with centrist parties, having already agreed to run with the leftwing SEL party. He said this would create the risk of having a repeat of the sort of internal rifts that dogged Romano Prodi's 2006-2008 centre-left government, which relied on the support of a broad alliance of squabbling parties. Bersani, a 61-year-old former industry minister and ex member of Italy's Communist party, warned his rival not to use "the arguments of the opponent". Another area of dispute was pension reform. Renzi said he would not try to reverse changes, including increases in the retirement age, introduced by Monti's government. Bersani said this pension reform could be "perfected" in several ways, citing the problem of thousands of so-called esodati (the exiled) - people who accepted severance packages ahead of retirement but have been left without a pension because of government changes to the system. Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party was scheduled to have a primary to choose its premier candidate on December 16, although this now looks unlikely to happen because of the ex-premier's reservations. Berlusconi has said he is reconsidering his decision not to stand for a fourth term and the party is in a state of confusion, amid reports that it may split up. The PdL, the biggest party in parliament at the moment, has dropped to third in the opinion polls after a series of corruption scandals hitting top centre-right politicians in Rome and Milan.

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