Matteo Renzi, the Florence mayor and rising center-left star who just forced his own party’s interim Premier Enrico Letta to step aside, began coalition talks with rivals on Tuesday after being formally tasked with assembling a new government. Because his Democratic Party (PD) has a majority in the lower house of parliament, Renzi will be primarily focused on finding allies in the Senate, where he will need to survive a confidence vote in order to become the youngest prime minister in Italian history.
VISUAL CONTEXT: Italian debt compared to other E.U. nations
Should he find success in the behind-the-scenes parlor game that is coalition building, Renzi will be promptly greeted by structural fiscal woes and a corrupt political system that has alienated many young voters, feeding the activist insurgency that is Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. But because he hails from outside the capital, the young pol is currently enjoying a veneer as the fresh and exciting change-agent, even if as soon as he locks arms with the usual suspects in Rome, one suspects he could be tainted by the messy business of governing. Cognizant that he needs to display good faith early on, Renzi reportedly plans to move first on electoral reform, which should, at least in theory, help pave the way for bipartisan agreement on how to jump-start the economy and ease Italy’s massive debt. A charismatic outsider is exactly what voters have been craving, as Grillo’s rise demonstrated, though Renzi’s ideology is still somewhat nebulous. Despite hailing from the traditional left-wing party, he has extended an olive branch to conservative ideologues like three-time Premier Silvio Berlusconi, and made his name primarily as a centrist reformer. Often called Il Rottamatore (“the scrapper”) by the local press corps because he wants to do away with the entire Italian political class, Renzi is known as much for challenging left-wing orthodoxy and cozying up with business elites as he is for populist invectives against the powerful.
The problem for Renzi is that he has promised to take on everything, from political dysfunction to a weak labor market to long-term debt. Relying on his sheer force of personality seems unwise; instead, Renzi would do well to find common ground with center-right moderates like Angelino Alfano and his Nuovo Centrodestra (‘New Center Right’) party, a breakaway faction from Berlusconi’s latest incarnation of right-wing standby Forza Italia. That risks alienating organized labor and other institutions on the left, but if Renzi can achieve even a handful of his stated objectives, the votes from the center and center-right will be there to compensate for any bleeding.