Italian PM 'torpedoed' by 'boundlessly ambitious' mayor

Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi (left, December 2013) and recently-resigned Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta  (June 2013) Mr Renzi (left) will need a steady hand if he is successfully to follow outgoing Prime Minister Enrico Letta

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The fast-talking and charismatic Mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi managed to torpedo his fellow Democratic Party colleague Enrico Letta at a make-or-break leadership meeting in Rome.

Mr Letta threw in the towel as prime minister after a dramatic speech by the ebullient 39-year-old Mr Renzi who, quoting the American poet Robert Frost, announced that he had chosen to take the "road less travelled" in an ambitious effort to drag Italy out of its current economic swamp.

Mr Renzi admitted that he was embarking on a risky path by seeking to take over the premiership himself, but said he was a man of "boundless ambition" and that his country could not be allowed to continue its current slow economic decline.

A former minister of industry and European affairs, Mr Letta - now 47 - was Italy's youngest ever cabinet minister when aged 32. Ten months ago, he was asked by President Giorgio Napolitano to cobble together an unwieldy coalition of left, centre and rightist parties after an inconclusive general election.

Brink of bankruptcy

His stated goals were to shore up the economy, create jobs for unemployed youths and reduce taxes.

A view of Chigi palace, the headquarters of Italian government, in Rome (February 2013) Political horse trading will inevitably Matteo Renzi's appointment as prime minister designate

He managed to pull Italy back from the brink of bankruptcy, ensuring the implementation of economic policies meeting EU parameters which steadily reduced the "spread" between the cost of Italian euro debt and that of Germany.

But Mr Letta failed to implement promised reforms of an often corrupt and wasteful bureaucracy coupled with a bloated parliament.

Youth unemployment has worsened and Italians have been growing increasingly impatient of the slow pace of reform while witnessing the continuing decline of families' income and living standards.

Above all he failed to obtain passage of a bill that was to change a much despised election law called "the pigsty" - brought in under former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Passed in 2005, this law deprived the electorate of the power to choose candidates directly. Instead they had to choose from a fixed list selected by party leaders under a proportional system.

No guarantee of success

Mr Letta has also been accused of having been over-generous to banks and having unfairly punished manufacturing industry by his taxation policies.

Outgoing Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta in Rome Mr Letta says he survived as prime minister by displaying a Zen-like calm during his period in office

There will at the weekend be a rapid round of political consultations by President Napolitano and the leaders of all political parties before the president decides whether to ask Mr Renzi to try and form a new broad-based coalition.

Although Mr Renzi's stated ambition is to lead a new coalition which will last the full remaining length of the current parliament - until the spring of 2018 - there is no guarantee that he is going to succeed in convincing experienced old political hands that he has the capacity to lead.

He has never been elected to parliament and the political horse-trading that would inevitably follow his appointment as prime minister-designate will require a steady hand.

Mr Letta says he survived as prime minister by displaying a Zen-like calm during his period in office.

Meanwhil Senator Luigi Zanda, a prestigious voice inside the Democratic Party, warned that there is no time to lose in replacing the Letta government.

"The acceleration that Renzi proposes is a necessity. We need first of all a reform of the state itself," he said.

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