Rome

Renzi ponders bid to lead centre-left Democratic Party

Being party chief and Florence mayor 'not incompatible'

Renzi ponders bid to lead centre-left Democratic Party

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, June 6 - Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi has said he may change his mind after ruling out running for the leadership of Italy's centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the biggest group in parliament, later this year. The party will hold a congress in the autumn to elect a new secretary after Pier Luigi Bersani quit the helm of the party in April amid rifts that saw two of the PD's own candidates to be Italian president scuppered by internal rebellions. Renzi, a telegenic 38-year-old who has been compared to the young Tony Blair, is the rising star of the PD and came second to Bersani last year in the primary to select the centre-left's premier candidate for February's general election. But his share of the limelight has diminished since another young PD man, Enrico Letta, was sworn in as premier in April after being chosen by President Giorgio Napolitano to head an unprecedented left-right administration and end two months of political deadlock after the inconclusive vote. Although Renzi is Italy's most popular politician after Napolitano, according to opinion polls, he is viewed with suspicion by many within his own party. Some see his drive for the old guard of Italian politics to be "scrapped" as motivated more by personal ambition than by a desire for real change. He was also a big critic of Bersani's handling of the post-election impasse and has been accused of making mischief for Letta after he warned the government not to dither over institutional reforms to make Italy easier to govern and fix the election law that failed to produce a clear winner in February. "I'm tired of being described as the naughty boy trying to find a post for myself, a man possessed with a passion for power," Renzi said in an interview published Thursday by Italian daily Corriere della Sera. "If I'm needed, the party's mayors and the activists will tell me. "People who I respect a great deal advised me not to do it. But now they are getting convinced (it's a good idea)". He added that being Florence mayor and party secretary is "not incompatible". Renzi did admit that, given as he is a political heavyweight who is widely seen as a future premier, his presence at the helm of the PD could cause tension that might lead to the collapse of Letta's government. Nevertheless, Friuli-Venezia Giulia Governor Debora Serracchiani, one of the PD's Young Turks, encouraged Renzi to run. "If Matteo Renzi really intends to be a candidate to be the PD's national secretary, I think he'll be an excellent candidate," Serracchiani said. "I don't know what he intends to do, but I think we need to have the best candidates possible take the field". Ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, which is backing Letta's executive, also looked favourably on Renzi taking command of the centre-left group. Renzi has frequently distanced himself from the way other PD figures tried to demonize Berlusconi before the party ended up joining forces with the PdL to form a government. "An eventual bid by Matteo Renzi to be secretary of the PD could open a true political dialectic within the PD for the first time and, at the same time, represent an element of clarity and stability for the whole political system," said PdL Coordinator Sandro Bondi. The PD has put Guglielmo Epifani, the former head of Italy's largest trade union, the CGIL, in charge of the party until the congress to elect a permanent leader.

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