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MNI (London)
Repeats Story Initially Transmitted at 13:23 GMT Mar 5/08:23 EST Mar 5
--Decision To Continue As Party Leader or Step Down Expected Today
--Renzi-less Democrats Could Ally With Winning 5-Star
By Silvia Marchetti
     ROME (MNI) - Matteo Renzi former Italian Prime Minister and current leader
of the Democrats, is expected to announce later Monday whether he will stay in
charge of the party or resign in the wake of a crushing electoral defeat, MNI
has learned.
     "A decision will be made by (Renzi) later today. Renzi is currently
considering all options and thinking about what is best to be done for the sake
of the party," a close aide to Renzi told MNI. 
     The source however did not say if the Democrat leader was more inclined
towards leaving or staying, but stressed that the decision will be swift and the
party would not be left hanging. 
     The Democrats' poor electoral performance -- picking up barely 20% of the
popular vote -- is the biggest defeat the party has faced since 1994. It is
Renzi's second ballot-box blow after Italians rejected his constitutional reform
in a December 2016 referendum.
     The party now faces a conundrum: continue along the same (failing) path or
shift direction, by opening up a new phase and paving way to a new leadership,
another Democrat source who said. 
     --DEMOCRAT SLUMP
     Giovanni Orsina, School of Government director at Rome-based LUISS
University said it was unthinkable that Renzi could survive a second defeat in
just two years. "His leadership credibility and consensus have drastically
crumbled, he cannot but acknowledge where he now stands, disempowered," said .
     Over the past two years Renzi's support fell over 20%, from the robust 40%
his party secured at the last European elections and at the referendum to the
current levels. 
     The Democrats' slump, however, is not attributable to just one man, Orsina
pointed-out.
     "The centre-left has been facing a crisis for almost a decade, and when
Renzi took over in 2013 as Democrat leader after winning the primaries things
were already gloomy. He was actually meant to be the solution himself". 
     Nor did Renzi's enemies on the left play a crucial role in his debacle. The
leftist separatist party Free and Equal, who split from the Democrats just
months before the elections, took barely 4% of mainstream vote. 
     --FUTURE PARTY ROLE
     Renzi's D-Day will also outline a new role for the Democrats, that might
help them position for a role in a future government. 
     "A Democrat party no longer led by Renzi, who has made anti-populism the
cornerstone of his agenda, could decide to ally with the 5 Star party to secure
a stable government," said Orsina. 
     The 5-Star Movement, the winning party with over 31% of votes, are however
'lame' and can't rejoice in a one-party government, Orsina argued, but need to
find potential allies to secure the required 40% ruling majority to govern.
     A new Democrat leader would pave way to a transition phase for the party,
and it is likely he would be a high-level party figure with a good approval
rating, perhaps even current prime minister Paolo Gentiloni. 
--MNI London Bureau; tel: +44 203-586-2225; email: les.commons@marketnews.com
MNI London Bureau | +44 203-865-3812 | les.commons@marketnews.com
MNI London Bureau | +44 203-865-3812 | les.commons@marketnews.com