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Former Italy PM Renzi calls for party reform, leadership contest

Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has called on his Democratic Party to stop squabbling. Renzi has requested early elections, which seems increasingly unlikely.

Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called for a leadership contest in his ruling Democratic Party (PD) on Monday, citing party infighting.

Renzi served as Italian Prime Minister from February 2014, following an internal party coup, until losing a referendum vote in December 2016. Renzi is still the party secretary, a position he has held since December 2013.

Renzi said the party must unite to defeat populism and prevent protectionist policies that are gaining momentum across Europe. Renzi repeatedly mentioned US President Donald Trump's name, telling top PD figures to combat "Trumpism" in his pitch.

"The politics of fear" are fueling the popularity of populist parties, said Renzi.

Possible early elections

Renzi has also called for early national elections to fellow PD members.

"I think it's common sense to accept the idea of holding a Congress before a national vote," said Renzi. "A cycle is closing in the leadership of the PD."

Italian parliamentary elections are currently scheduled for 2018. Current opinion polls show the PD neck and neck with the populist Five Star Movement, led by comedian-turned-political activist Beppe Grillo, and fellow anti-immigration party Northern League - both of which have also called for early elections.

Italien Referendum Beppe Grillo (picture alliance/AP Photo/G. Borgia)

Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo also wants early elections

Parliament has yet to agree to a new electoral law. Senior Italian political sources have told Reuters they expect current Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni to continue leading the legislature for the rest of the term, though one of Renzi's allies told Reuters Renzi has not lost hope of a national election in June.

kbd/kl (AFP, AP, Reuters)