MILAN (Reuters) – Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will lead a breakaway from the ruling Democratic Party (PD) this week and set up a new centrist force, he was quoted as saying on Tuesday, stressing the move could broaden the appeal of the coalition government.
Renzi, who led a PD administration from 2014-2016, was instrumental in piecing together the new coalition earlier this month after the far-right League, led by former Interior Ministry Matteo Salvini, walked out of an alliance with the 5-Star Movement in the hope of triggering an early election.
However, Renzi, now a member of Senate for PD, has had an abrasive relationship with his party, especially with left-wingers, and there have been persistent rumours he was planning to set up a new movement.
In an interview with daily newspaper la Repubblica published on Tuesday Renzi said PD was now a bunch of factions.
“I am afraid it will not be able to respond to Salvini’s aggressions and to the difficult cohabitation with 5-Star Movement,” he said.
“I want to spend the coming months fighting against Salvini,” he said. “The bad populism he represents has not been defeated”.
The parliamentary groups of the new force would be created this week, Renzi said, adding some 30 lawmakers would follow him.
PD has 111 seats in the lower house of Italian parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, and 51 in the Senate.
“That will be good for everyone,” Renzi said of the breakaway, adding it would allow the government “to probably expand its parliamentary support”.
PD’s Secretary Nicola Zingaretti said Renzi’s decision was a mistake.
“We are sorry,” he said on Twitter on Tuesday.
According to analysts, Renzi’s move might make it harder for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to keep his government in office. But others think Renzi might succeed in claiming the middle ground of Italian politics.
PD lawmakers Ettore Rosato and Ivan Scalfarotto said earlier this week a new party might attract dissidents from Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, broadening the coalition’s parliamentary majority.
Support for Forza Italia has sunk since the 2018 national election, while backing for the far-right League has soared. Renzi’s backers believe this has created a big hole at the centre of domestic politics that they hope to fill.
Francesco Galietti, head of political risk consultancy Policy Sonar, said Renzi was giving himself more political bargaining power over policy and public appointments.
“In the PD he would have been a minority shareholder without board position,” he said.
“This is not a mortal threat to the government yet, but it makes its prospects less rosy because it increases fragmentation and may contribute to instability” he added.
(Reporting by Giulio Piovaccari; Editing by Sam Holmes and Mark Potter)