Rome

Support swells for Renzi to be premier

Centre right seems more enthusiastic than Florence mayor's party

Support swells for Renzi to be premier

(see related stories on political situation) Rome, April 23 - Support was swelling on Tuesday for Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, the rising star of the crisis-hit centre-left Democratic Party (PD), to be given a mandate by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to form a new government. But many of the calls came from the centre right rather than the PD itself, which is without a leader after Pier Luigi Bersani quit as secretary at the weekend after two candidates he proposed to be president were scuppered by internal rebellions. Napolitano, who reluctantly agreed to serve a second term after the parties failed to elect a successor, is likely to ask a PD member to try to lead a new government, as it is the biggest party in parliament after February's inconclusive general election. 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 Renzi, who has said he wants to become premier by winning elections and not by agreement among the powers-that-be, 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. Furthermore, Renzi also refused to join in the vilification of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, whom he met in private recently. This may be part of the reason why many in the centre left look on him favourably to lead a broad coalition government Napolitano wants to see to end two months of political paralysis amid a social and economic crisis caused by Italy's longest recession in 20 years. "My personal opinion is that giving a mandate to Matteo Renzi to form a new government would be in line with the demand for change that is rising in the country," said former culture minister Sandro Bondi, a senior member of Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party. Renzi's attacks on Bersani have led some in the PD to say he is putting his personal ambitions above the good of the party. But he also has supporters who say he is a voice of change and argue it is laudable that his outspoken nature shows he is transparent about his views. Renzi announced before the the first vote to elect the head of State that lawmakers and regional representatives close to him would not back Marini. The second candidate Bersani proposed, ex-premier Romano Prodi, was sunk by rebels who gave no indication before the ballot that they would not support the party line. "I think Renzi is the right name (to be premier) and I don't understand why he shouldn't," said Debora Serracchiani, who gave the PD some respite from its internal woes on Monday by winning regional elections in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. "I said this a month and a half ago and was blasted by my party," added the 42-year-old new governor of the north-eastern region. "At the moment he is the person who is capable of capturing the greatest level of support, as he manages to speak beyond the boundaries of the PD and he can probably best represent the demands of an electorate that is now mixed. "They don't have deep-rooted ideologies any more and they don't just vote left any more, they simply vote for the people".

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