Italian ex-PM triumphs in party contest with over two-thirds of votes

Indo Asian News Service

Rome, April 4 (IANS/AKI) Italy's former Premier Matteo Renzi has trounced his rivals in the first stage of voting in the ruling centre-left Democratic Party leadership contest, taking around 68 percent of members' votes, partial results showed Monday.

Renzi's closest contender, Justice Minister Andrea Orlando took some 25 percent of ballots in the first round of the party congress, while Puglia governor Michele Emiliano got some 6.5 percent, enough to stay in the running for April 30 primaries open to all.

"Sixty-eight percent, an impressive result, long live democracy and thanks to everyone. Now let's work together," Renzi tweeted.

"We got over two-thirds of votes in the first round. Let's wait for the official figures to have the exact percentage but mathematics is not a matter for opinion," Renzi later wrote in his online newsletter e-news.

Organisers said around between 235,000 and 255,000 Democratic Party members voted, but Orlando's supporters said the figures were "not convincing". The official results of the vote will be issued on Sunday.

"I hope that over two million people vote on April 30, because it would be a blow for the whole party if it were below that threshold," Orlando stated.

Renzi is seeking to be re-elected party leader with a stronger mandate after stepping down as Premier in December after a crushing defeat in a referendum on constitutional reforms he claimed would streamline Italy's political machinery.

The 42-year-old triggered a split within the Democratic Party in February when he announced he was standing down as party leader to seek a new, stronger mandate in early primaries, while urging unity.

Two days later, a left-leaning faction in Italy's Democratic Party, led by its former leader Pier Luigi Bersani and ex-lower house of parliament whip Roberto Speranza announced they were breaking away.

The rebels said they would take no part in further meetings or the party congress but would continue to back Paolo Gentiloni, a Renzi ally who took over as caretaker Prime Minister until national elections due by February 2018 at the latest.

The small but influential splinter group could get between 5 percent and 8 percent of votes in a future general election, according to pollsters.

Bersani, Speranza and other leftwingers including Tuscany regional Governor Enrico Rossi have long criticised the reformist Renzi's repositioning of the party towards the political centre and his allegedly autocratic treatment of dissenters.