Italy’s Renzi Regains Party Leadership With Big Primary Win

Italy’s former prime minister has made a dramatic return to frontline politics five months after stepping down.

Matteo Renzi, nicknamed ‘The Scrapper’ because of his confrontational style, easily regained the leadership of the ruling Democratic Party (PD) on Sunday with an overwhelming victory in a primary election among party supporters yesterday.

The 42-year-old quit in December following a crushing referendum defeat over plans to streamline lawmaking.

He was replaced as prime minister by Paulo Gentiloni, who called to congratulate him after his victory.

Renzi hopes the result will bolster the centre-left’s ability to counter growing support for populist politicians in Italy ahead of national elections.

And Renzi told supporters: ‘The alternative to populism isn’t the elite. It’s people who aren’t afraid of democracy.’

His party is still the main force in Italy’s centre-left coalition government, but opinion polls indicate it is no longer the country’ most popular.

Overtaking the Democrats in recent soundings was the 5-Star Movement, whose leader, comic Beppe Grillo, wants a crackdown on migrants, rails against EU-mandated austerity and opposes Italy belonging to the euro single currency group.

According to partial results, Renzi had about 72 percent of the vote, held in makeshift polling booths around the country.

About two million party members voted in the primary. Justice Minister Andrea Orlando had 19 percent while Michele Emiliano, the governor of the southern Puglia region, had about 9 percent.

With a national vote due by May 2018, polls show the ruling PD has slipped behind the 5-Star Movement, which questions the country’s euro membership.

Under Italy’s proportional representation voting system, no party currently looks likely to win enough seats in parliament to govern alone.

Renzi, with his confrontational leadership style, has become a divisive figure, and there is no guarantee he would be named prime minister of a future coalition government even if the PD were to win the most votes during the election.

While Renzi remains the most popular politician among PD voters, the party and his own appeal look much weaker than during his heyday as prime minister, after he failed to convert his ambitious reform agenda into reality.

Renzi’s current personal approval rating is about half of the 50 percent he posted three years ago, according to the Ixe polling institute.

Matteo Renzi, nicknamed “Il Rottamatore” (The Scrapper) for his pledges to cast away the old political guard, has said he wants a ‘simpler, more competitive and more courageous’ political system. He gambled by calling a referendum aimed at streamlining parliament and transferring powers from regions to central government.Renzi, who became prime minister in 2014, quit in December after an overwhelming defeat. The former prime minister is nicknamed Il Rottamatore, which means The ScrapperAfter his win on Sunday, he tweeted: ‘It is a huge responsibility. I thank from the bottom of my heart those men and women who believe in Italy.’This is not the second half of the same match, it’s a new match,” he added in a victory speech.’At just 42 years old, the former mayor of Florence has made no secret of his ambitions – even at the expense of appearing ruthless toward his fellow Democratic Party leaders. Renzi, pictured alongside wife Agnese Landini, quit in December after defeat in a referendum over a bid to streamline Italian politicsHe pushed out former premier Enrico Letta to take his place in February 2014, having tweeted a now-famous ‘Enrico, don’t worry’ less than a month earlier.He managed to deliver significant labour market reforms and modest growth, while overseeing the granting of legal recognition to gay relationships for the first time.But the recovery was not strong enough to pay any real political dividends, and alienated many on his party’s far left, who broke away in February to form the Progressive and Democratic Movement (DP).In response, Renzi has indicated he would be open to an alliance with Silvio Berlusconi, the millionaire former centre-right premier. For many Italians, it was just the latest sign that he has the prime minister job once more in his sights.This week, the cover of L’Espresso magazine showed Renzi dressed in a French-style beret at the front of a tandem bicycle, with a worried-looking Paolo Gentiloni, the current premier, at the back.

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