Rome, August 8 - Italy's center-left bigwigs are meeting in Rome Thursday to discuss the future of their divided Democratic Party (PD), which heads the fragile coalition government in partnership with the party of recently convicted former premier Silvio Berlusconi. Focus has centered around the charismatic mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi, a favorite among voters to front the party in next elections, but controversial among his own ranks for moderate views that often clash with those of party traditionalists such as longtime trade unionist Guglielmo Epifani, the PD's interim secretary. The party has been without an elected leader since former secretary Pier Luigi Bersani resigned in April amid rifts that saw two of the PD's own candidates to be Italian president scuppered by internal rebellions. On Wednesday Renzi called for a party congress to end the interim and hold elections by November for secretary, a position which often translates to nominee for premier. Party loyalists have stressed that the title should not come with an automatic nomination, which could pose problems for sitting premier Letta, who is not seen as a contender for secretary. Renzi's supporters hold that whoever wins the secretary position should de facto represent the party in elections. The 38-year-old Florence mayor has been seen as a top candidate, 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 an inconclusive February vote. At times fellow party members have shown skepticism over his political ambitions, accusing him of wishing for the current government to fall in order for him to take over whatever government may follow. Recently he has expressed sympathy with members of the PD incensed over their party's coalition with the center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party of Berlusconi, who for the first time in years of legal entanglements was definitively convicted last week for fraud at his media empire Mediaset. He is expected to serve a year either under house arrest or performing community service. Leading up to Berlusconi's sentencing, a growing faction of PD lawmakers expressed disgust over working in alliance with members of a party headed by a now convicted criminal, adding another layer of instability to the fragile executive. On Thursday, Renzi said he was "rooting for Premier Letta" but added that the government needed to prove itself by "doing" rather than "surviving", and that if it failed to govern it should not go looking for "alibis" outside of parliament.
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di Sebastiano Caspanello