Italy's Renzi brushes off schism, positions self for future

AP News
Posted: Feb 21, 2017 10:47 AM

ROME (AP) — Former Italian Premier Matteo Renzi brushed off a threatened schism within his ruling Democratic Party on Tuesday as he positioned himself to retake its leadership three months after suffering a humiliating defeat.

A left-leaning faction within Democrats has threatened to leave ahead of a national parliamentary election later this year or in 2018, and a party meeting Tuesday looked poised to make that rebellion permanent.

Renzi had stepped down as party leader over the weekend in hopes of getting a new, stronger mandate and urged unity. But by Tuesday, he seemed resigned that the faction led by Pier Luigi Bersani was leaving and said the party must move on.

"If someone wants to leave our community, we are pained by the choice but our mantra remains the same: Come, don't go," Renzi wrote on his blog. He said he was looking to the future, to the party's upcoming congress and was planning a new TV and social media blitz to get out his ideas.

Renzi resigned as premier after he lost a Dec. 4 referendum on constitutional changes. Premier Paolo Gentiloni has been running a caretaker government until new elections are held. Many in the Democratic Party had bristled at Renzi's arrogant style and had defied him by urging voters to reject the referendum.

Amid the disarray, party founders urged the rebels to rethink, with former Premier Romano Prodi warning that it would be political "suicide" to break away at a time when populist forces are poised to make headway in the next election.

Another ex-premier, Enrico Letta, whom Renzi ousted as premier in a 2014 back-room coup, blamed Renzi for the disarray in the party but urged unity.

"It can't end like this," he pleaded on Facebook. "It's easy to destroy something. Much harder to build it."