europe

Italian ex-prime minister Enrico Letta elected to lead Democratic party


A former Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta, has been elected leader of the centre-left Democratic party (PD), the second largest party in Mario Draghi’s government, as another former prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, was in talks to become leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S), its largest.

Letta takes over from Nicola Zingaretti, who abruptly quit the party’s leadership earlier this month over what he called an “unending stream” of criticism, and was elected on Sunday with 860 votes in favour and two against.

“I thank everyone for their faith; it is a great honour and I will give it my all,” he said.

Letta led a coalition of leftwing and rightwing parties in 2013-14 and since 2015 has been the dean of the school of international affairs at Sciences Po in Paris. PD members turned to him for help in reviving the party’s fortunes after Zingaretti’s departure triggered a slump in support in opinion polls.

Zingaretti, who had led the party since March 2018, welcomed the move, adding on Twitter: “Now for loyalty and passion for the good of Italy.”

In a video message on Friday, Letta, who helped to found the PD, said he put himself forward for the role “out of a love of politics and a passion for democratic values”.

Letta said he would hold dialogues with all parties, including “the Five Star Movement of Giuseppe Conte”. Conte, who stepped down as prime minister of a coalition between the PD and M5S in January, remains one of the most popular politicians in Italy for his early handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Letta and Conte have something in common: they were both effectively booted out of office by Matteo Renzi, the former PD leader who was prime minister between 2014 and 2016.

Letta, 54, was appointed prime minister by former president Giorgio Napolitano after general elections in 2013 produced a stalemate. He later became embroiled in a power struggle with Renzi, who argued that Italy needed a more ambitious government.

Renzi, also appointed prime minister by Napolitano, was forced to step down in late 2016 after losing a referendum on constitutional reform. He quit as PD leader following the party’s dismal performance in the 2018 elections.

Renzi then split from the PD after orchestrating a coalition between the party and former rival M5S in August 2019 following the collapse of M5S’s coalition government with the far-right League, and went on to form Italia Viva, a small centrist party that polls at around 3%.

In January, Renzi pulled Italia Viva from the ruling coalition after clashing over Conte’s plans for Italy’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery, prompting a political crisis that ushered in the formation of a broad-based national unity government led by Draghi, the former European Central Bank chief.

Letta immediately attracted criticism from Matteo Salvini, who leads the League, after he said he would like Draghi’s government to revive debate on a hotly contested law that would grant citizenship at birth to children born in Italy to foreign parents. Currently, children of immigrants have to wait until they are 18.

“So it starts badly,” Salvini said.



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