(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi resigned as head of the ruling Democratic Party (PD) on Sunday, opening the way for a leadership fight when he will take on foes who are threatening to rip apart the center-left group.
Battling for his political life, Renzi made clear he would seek re-election and warned that the PD's internal feuding was proving a gift to its main opponent in parliament, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.
He did not announce when the ballot would be held, but allies say he is keen to hold it before local elections in June, fearing defeat for the PD then could sink his chances.
Renzi quit as prime minister in December after losing a referendum on his plans for constitutional reform and he is eager to hold a national election as soon as possible in an attempt to regain power.
His opponents want parliament to carry on until the scheduled end of its term in early 2018, arguing that the PD needs time to draw up a more left-leaning manifesto that bolsters welfare spending and offers no favors to big business.
Recent opinion polls have put the PD neck-and-neck with the 5-Star Movement, founded by Beppe Grillo, which wants a referendum on Italy's euro membership.
Many commentators had expected the dissidents to announce their breakaway movement on Sunday, but they held back from the brink, preferring instead to keep on pounding at Renzi.
If the dissidents do form a new party, polls say they could win well over 5 percent of the vote. With the next election likely to be held under proportional representation, such a result could give them more power in the next parliament than if they remain in a Renzi-dominated PD.