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      News Analysis: Is Italy's Renzi able to fight populist Five Star Movement?
      From:Xinhua  |  2017-05-03 09:29

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      by Stefania Fumo

      ROME, May 2 (Xinhua) -- Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is back in the saddle after being reappointed as leader of the ruling Democratic Party (PD) in the latest PD primary vote.

      The staunchly pro-European Union (EU) politician beat two other contenders by a wide margin, garnering over 70 percent of the vote as almost 2 million Democratic Party (PD) rank-and-file members and sympathizers cast their ballots -- down from the 3 million who elected Renzi in 2013 party primaries.

      Sunday's victory positions Renzi as the center-left candidate for prime minister in the next general election, which will likely occur in early 2018 and will see him pitted against Italy's current number one party: the populist, Eurosceptic, Five Star Movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo.

      In his victory speech at PD headquarters, Renzi did not hesitate to throw jabs at his political opponent. "The only alternative to populism is the people," Renzi told supporters.

      "When 2 million turn out to vote...these are persons not algorithms, flesh and blood not tiny numbers, votes and faces not emoticons on social media," he said in reference to the Five Star Movement's online voting system and internet-based methods.

      Renzi, who entered politics at the age of 21 and who turned 42 this year, quit as prime minister and PD secretary in December 2016 after almost three years in the post when close to 60 percent of Italian voters turned down his government's flagship constitutional reform.

      That vote -- which was widely hailed by populist, right-wing and Eurosceptic parties -- was seen as a judgment against the reformist premier and his pro-European, pro-immigration policies in times of sluggish economic recovery, in which the euro is being widely blamed for continued unemployment and a lack of prospects for Italy's youth.

      A caretaker government led by former foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni -- also of Renzi's PD -- was in place a week later, but the party suffered the defection of a left-wing dissenting minority in February led by former party chief and ex-premier Pier Luigi Bersani.

      As a result, the Democratic Party slipped to second place in nationwide polls while the Five Star Movement, which is clamoring for a referendum on leaving the eurozone, replaced it at the top.

      On April 25 this year, the Five Stars were polling at just over 29 percent and the Democratic Party at 26.8 percent, with Bersani's breakaway faction garnering 4 percent. By comparison, exactly two years ago, Renzi's PD stood at almost 37 percent of the vote, followed by the Five Star Movement at just under 20 percent.

      Remaining a member of the EU is becoming a tough sell in Italy, where average household income plummeted from some 40,000 U.S. dollars a year in 1991 to about 32,000 U.S. dollars in 2010, according to an April study from the Pew Research Center.

      By comparison, in 2010, Luxembourg had average household income of over 60,000 U.S. dollars a year, against about 52,000 U.S. a year in Norway and over 41,000 U.S. dollars per year in Germany, according to the Pew report titled "Middle Class Fortunes in Western Europe."

      While Renzi exceeded forecasts to score a resounding victory on Sunday, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to restore his weakened personal image, heal his party from the constitutional referendum defeat, and the fraction that followed. He will also have to answer to continuing popular discontent over sharpening economic divisions and 11.5 percent unemployment, and sway a majority of voters over to his EU vision.

      "We want Europe, but not this Europe," said the newly restored PD chief, pledging to fight for social and economic justice in the EU.



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