Former premier Matteo Renzi is to stand again for his Democratic Party (PD) leadership. Internal party feuding is threatening to split the party ahead of elections to be held by early 2018.
Resisting pressure from a small group of party dissidents, Renzi resigned as head of the ruling Democratic Party (PD) during a special conference in Rome on Sunday.
Renzi said he would be seeking re-election at a party congress expected to be held in April or May. Party officials are due to decide on Tuesday when to hold the leadership ballot.
"The only word worse than 'schism' is the word 'blackmail,' Renzi told the PD assembly in Rome. "To ask me to leave is not democratic."
"You have the right to defeat us, not eliminate us. That's the heart of a democracy," Renzi told party dissidents.
Opposition to Renzi within the party centers on three key figures who issued a statement on Sunday promoting a PD in favor of welfare spending and tackling inequality. "It is now clear that Renzi has chosen the path of a schism and bears a heavy burden of responsibility," the dissidents wrote in a statement.
Renzi's opponents in the PD include Enrico Rossi, president of the Tuscany region, Roberto Speranza, a former PD chief whip in the lower house, and Michele Emiliano, president of the southern Apulia region and a possible challenger for the PD leadership. Rossi called for "a party which is on the side of the workers."
The dissidents have criticized Renzi's call for an early parliamentary election, saying the party needs more time to prepare a congress and primaries, with a more leftist program. Paradoxically, should the PD split, early elections could become more likely. PD chairman Matteo Orfini said "A split would shrink parliamentary support for the government and put it at risk."
On Sunday Renzi did not repeat his call for early elections ahead of the end of the parliamentary term in early 2018. He urged only support for his replacement as prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni: "Basta (enough) with discussions and polemics on the government," Renzi said. "I ask you to applaud Gentiloni and his government because it is unthinkable that the congress be turned into a congress on the government."
Renzi said he took responsibility for the loss of the referendum vote on constitutional change, which triggered his resignation as prime minister in December.
"Everything stems from the referendum," Renzi told his 600 party delegates on Sunday. "I feel responsible for the defeat, there is a before and an after. That referendum was a blow for the whole country, starting with the economic system and we must now put the car back on the road."
In an Ipsos poll published in the "Corriere della Sera" newspaper at the weekend, only 4.3 percent of voters said they would back a new leftist party. The alternative Five Star movement headed the poll with 30.9 percent followed by the PD with 30.1 percent and then former premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia with 13 percent and 12.8 percent for the anti-immigrant Northern League.
jm/bw (Reuters, AFP)