Italian PM Letta to resign, Renzi poised to step in


ROME: Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta will resign on Friday in a lightning political crisis and his 39-year-old leftist challenger Matteo Renzi is poised to win the nomination to replace him.

Letta said on Thursday he would submit his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano following his final cabinet meeting after less than a year in power at the head of an uneasy grand coalition.

The cabinet meeting is to start at 10:30 a.m. local time.

The drama in Rome is the result of weeks of feuding between Letta and Renzi, the newly elected ambitious leader of the governing center-left Democratic Party, which fell behind him in calling for a change in government.

The “relay” between Letta and Renzi is an unpopular move among Italians, according to opinion polls, and there is concern in the party that it could strengthen disgraced former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Analysts said Renzi is now tainted with the image of a cloak-and-dagger politician who engineered Letta’s overthrow despite an earlier agreement to allow him to stay on until 2015.

But they also said he could quickly win support if he manages to push through impor–tant reforms, and financial markets were broadly supportive with stocks and bond rates holding stable.

Mario Calabresi, the editor of La Stampa daily, said the sudden crisis at the top had generated “a sense of incredulity” among Italians as most people had expected early elections to be held.

But the paper’s politics expert Giovanni Orsina said Renzi’s rise “might be the only sensible solution possible” as he is “considered by many the only way to get Italy out of the quagmire.”

One point in Renzi’s favor was the ringing endorsement he won from the Democratic Party.

At a tense meeting on Thursday, members of the party’s directorate lined up behind Renzi.

But Renzi still faces delicate days ahead before he can finally clinch his goal of becoming the European Union’s youngest prime minister and Italy’s youngest ever government leader.

Deputy Prime Minister Angelino Alfano, leader of the New Center-Right party, a minor coalition partner whose votes are critical, has already said his support for Renzi is not a given.

Despite having been expelled from parliament over a criminal conviction for tax fraud and being a defendant in three other court cases, Berlusconi could also score political points.

Berlusconi’s Forza Italia opposition party has already said he will lead upcoming coalition consultations with the nominee for prime minister—virtually certain to be Renzi.



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