Rome

Renzi's rise seems irresistible but new rival seen

Fabrizio Barca presents renewal platform for PD and govt

Renzi's rise seems irresistible but new rival seen

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, April 12 - Matteo Renzi's seemingly irresistible rise to the top of the Democratic Party (PD) was corroborated by opinion polls Friday, even as a potential future rival, government minister Fabrizio Barca, threw down the gauntlet by unveiling a platform to reform both the PD and Italian government at large. The youthful Renzi's popularity is now twice that of the three much older leaders who emerged in a virtual tie from February's inconclusive general election, the SWG polling agency said. The outspoken Florence mayor is unequivocally the rising star in the PD, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, who came first in the election but failed to get a majority in the Senate. In SWG's poll the 38-year-old Tuscan administrator clocked a rating of 56% compared to 27% for all three of the leaders who have failed to agree on a government 45 days after the vote: the 61-year-old Bersani, 76-year-old centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, the close runner-up, and 64-year-old anti-establishment comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo. Grillo's M5S movement holds the balance of power in the hung parliament while Bersani and Berlusconi have been sparring for 45 days over the ex-premier's proposal for a left-right 'grand coalition'. Renzi's standing has grown since he publicly urged the PD and Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party to strike a deal or go back to the polls, while Bersani has been hurt by a perceived insistence on wanting a precarious PD-led minority government, amid rising tensions within the centre-left party. More than half of Italians, 55%, now want Renzi to take over from Bersani as PD leader, SWG said. Some 40% of PD voters said the same thing. Only 10% of the general electorate and 29% of the party think Bersani, leader of the old guard Renzi has openly campaigned to "scrap", should stay on as PD leader. Amid media speculation the PD might split, Bersani has denied meddling with Tuscan PD voting to deny Renzi a post as one of the electors of the next Italian president starting next Thursday. PD 'old guard' figurehead Massimo D'Alema, an ex-premier, met with Renzi Thursday and said it was a "mistake" to stop the mayor becoming a 'grand elector' in the poll to replace Giorgio Napolitano. Bersani, D'Alema and Renzi have insisted the PD will not break up. Renzi said Thursday night he would not form his own party and would not leave the PD, "not even if they try to kick me out". As the Renzi-Bersani spat dominated the news this week, outgoing Territorial Cohesion Minister Barca, 59, sneaked quietly onto the scene Thursday night after speculation he might run for the PD leadership. Barca took out membership of the PD late Thursday and on Friday released his plan to give Italy not only a new government, but a new form of government. Barca has won praise for targeting funds as the minister whose brief is to bring Italy's poorer South closer to the rich North since his appointment in November 2011 in the emergency technocrat government of Mario Monti. "Every single experience of my 16 months of work...leads to this dry political conclusion: without a new form of (political) party, no one can govern Italy", Barca said in presenting his platform to a media scrum in Rome. The public distrusts the mainstream political parties and their "persistent failure of good government," he said, in introducing the seven-chapter document that he has developed for a left-wing party that would be anchored in Italy's Constitution. Barca's vision of the new party would be one that promises to make better use of public funds, instill stronger civic virtues, and would commit to urban renewal. The Italian media have been speculated for weeks that Barca, a long-time economy ministry advisor who first made his name in the early 1990s as one of then-premier Carlo Azeglio Ciampi's young gurus, might provide an alternative to Renzi. Barca, the son of a heavyweight in the old Italian Communist Party (PCI), one of the precursors of the PD, joined the party Thursday night. For now he has said he is only aiming to become a voice on the party executive. But observers see him as a possible alternative successor to leader Pier Luigi Bersani, who is being increasingly challenged by the younger, more dynamic, media-savvy and centrist Renzi. Barca said he had sent his "document" to both Bersani and Renzi, as well as the leader of the other main party in the centre-left coalition, Nichi Vendola of Left, Ecology and Freedom (SEL). "I hope personal ambitions do not prevail or pollute the party's efforts, I hope a debate about ideas and not personalities will be opened on this text," he said. Barca's announcement came as Napolitano said that the 10 experts he asked to prepare a government programme capable of winning cross-party support had found "common ground". Napolitano asked for the parties to show "good will" in agreeing to implement all or part of it - although he stressed the task of shepherding the next government into office, or callling a snap vote, would fall to his successor.

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