Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has been re-elected as leader of the ruling Democratic Party (PD). Renzi's win was announced well ahead of the end of counting, as his rivals fell far behind.
About two million people took part in the vote, which from the beginning appeared to run in Renzi's favor. With ten percent of the vote counted earlier in the day, Renzi had looked set to win and by Sunday night was expected to win the PD leadership with between 60 and 70 percent of the vote. Renzi himself had set the bar for success at one million voters electing him.
Full results were expected early Monday.
The former prime minister was up against incumbent Justice Minister Andrea Orlando and against the president of the Apulia Region, Michele Emiliano.
"It is a huge responsibility. I thank from the bottom of my heart those men and women who believe in Italy," Renzi tweeted.
"This is not the second half of the same match, it's a new match," he said in a victory speech, referring to his previous tenures as party head and as Italy's prime minister.
Looking ahead at 2018 polls
The 42-year-old politician resigned as prime minister in December 2016 after Italy had overwhelmingly rejected a referendum on constitutional reform that would have seen the country's parliamentary system changed. He was replaced by his former foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni.
Despite that defeat Renzi remains the most popular PD politician. However, the party has lost a great deal of support in the past few years.
Renzi resigned as party leader in February. Minority party dissidents opposing him want to adopt a more leftist stance for the party and criticize Renzi as authoritarian.
With the next national elections due in 12 months, the PD will face an uphill struggle to regain voters' trust. Several polls show that the ruling party has fallen behind the Five-Star Movement, which is against the country's membership of the eurozone and has been criticized for its populist tendencies.
Under Italy's proportional representation voting system, no party currently looks likely to win enough seats in parliament to govern on its own. Renzi's comments in recent months suggest he is likely to pursue the top job as premier again in the 2018 elections.
ss/jm (AFP, Reuters)