Rome

Letta vows to change politics, restore faith

But not govt 'at all costs'

Letta vows to change politics, restore faith

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, April 24 - Enrico Letta vowed to change Italian politics and restore voter faith in a discredited system by passing a raft of reforms if he musters cross-party support for a government after receiving a mandate from newly re-elected President Giorgio Napoltano Wednesday. Letta, a respected political mediator, is deputy head of the Democratic Party (PD), whose coalition came first in February's general election but failed to win a Senate majority, leading to stalemate as then leader Pier Luigi Bersani balked at a coalition with Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party. Bersani quit after his government bid failed and two of his candidates for president were scuppered by party rebels, forcing Napolitano to reluctantly step back into the breach and knock heads. Napolitano, who read the riot act to "deaf" and "sterile" parties Monday, telling them in no uncertain terms to reach a deal, named Letta after Berlusconi reportedly rejected the PD's rising star, Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi. Letta, whose uncle is Berlusconi's closest political advisor, voiced determination to give Italy the government it needs to tackle a deepening recession, rising poverty and unemployment and win back voter confidence after the massive protest vote captured by Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which shuns both the PD and PdL. Italians "are fed up with political games," Letta said. "I will put all I have...with great determination" to help "restore faith in politics," he said. He voiced "great commitment" to try to achieve a "different kind of politics". Letta said Italy was in a "new, fragile situation that cannot continue. "I accepted (the mandate) feeling a great responsibility on my shoulders," he said. "The country is waiting for a government". Cutting MP numbers, turning the Senate into a federal chamber and reforming a bad election law will top the agenda if he forms a government, the PD deputy chief said. Creating jobs for young people will also be "a top priority" if he forms a government,Letta said after statistics agency Istat reported Wednesday that youth unemployment hit a 35-year high in February. With some in the PD looking askance at an alliance with their old enemy Berlusconi, Letta however said the government would not "be born at all costs". PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano challenged the PD, despite its deep rift, to back Letta "fully" or else face the prospect of a snap vote with the PdL riding high in the polls and the PD sinking after its meltdown. Letta ruled out the prospect of fresh elections this summer, saying it would produce the same virtual three-way tie between the PD, PdL and M5S, and another hung parliament. "If we voted again now the block effect would be the same (as February's inconclusive vote) and we can't afford it," he said. He reiterated it was essential to change an electoral law, dubbed the Pig's Dinner by its creator, which militates against a clear winner emerging in the House and the equally powerful Senate. Napolitano said he had "full confidence" Letta would form a government because he had "excellent characteristics for such a delicate task". He called on Italy's political parties to cooperate "to create a climate of maximum detente rather than the old tensions". His decision to give Letta the mandate "opened the door" to the "government that the country urgently needs" and has "long waited for". Napolitano said the only possibility was "a broad agreement between the political parties that can guarantee a majority". As well as the PD and PdL, which on their own would have a clear majority in both houses, outgoing technocrat Premier Mario Monti's Civic Choice party, which came a disappointing fourth in the February 24-25 election, has said it will back a Letta government. The PD's leftwing ally SEL has vowed to oppose what it sees as an enforced compromise between incompatible forces, and pundits think the leftwing of the PD may split off to join it. PdL ally the Northern League may also go into opposition.

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