A rising star

February 16, 2014 - 6:13:10 am

Matteo Renzi is set to become Italy’s youngest prime minister. The challenges ahead of him are huge.


The centre-left leader Matteo Renzi is set to be become Italy’s youngest prime minister after a party coup forced Enrico Letta to resign as premier as the euro zone state struggles to pull out of recession. Letta resigned two days ago after his Democratic Party (PD) forced him to quit and make way for Renzi, 39. Interestingly, the new prime minister is promising bold economic reforms and a government than can survive until 2018. 

Is Matteo Renzi a young man in a hurry? This is the question being asked in Italy and abroad. What economic wisdom and political acumen does he have which even senior politicians don’t have? If past experience is a yardstick, there is nothing great about him. Although he won handsomely in the primary which elevated him to the leadership of his party, he has never been elected to any national position, and he is not even a member of parliament. His most concrete achievement has been the reintroduction of trams to Florence, the city of which he is mayor. But it doesn’t mean he won’t be able to deliver on his promises. Politics and governance are unpredictable, and history is replete with examples where novices have pulled off surprises. That Renzi has been able to walk boldly into a hot seat shows his immense confidence and also that of his party and Italians in him.

Reports say his grand strategy will be to work with the Democratic party’s old enemy, Silvio Berlusconi, on electoral and constitutional reforms which would lay the basis for two-party democracy in a country long afflicted with compromises and quarrels of near-permanent coalition government. Cooperation with Berlusconi will be frowned upon, but if a limited cooperation is one of the prices he has to pay for getting the work done, then there is nothing wrong with it. What Italians are looking for is results. The country has gone through enough experiments and the cost of another failure will be huge.

But before he can stake his claim on history and attempt to install Italy’s 65th government, he must overcome institutional hurdles and plenty of political wheeling-and-dealing, a process likely to take several days. After receiving a mandate from the president, he will have to strike a deal with the small New Centre Right (NCD) party, whose support the PD needs to command a majority in the parliament. 

For Renzi, this is a golden opportunity. He is very young, charismatic and clearly able to garner votes from a wide spectrum of Italians. If he performs well, he has a colourful career ahead. And the challenges are greater since he is taking power through party politics, not the elections.