ROME Italy's center-left Democratic Party (PD), which threw away a 10 point lead in opinion polls ahead of last month's election, showed growing internal division this weekend as it struggles to find support to form a coalition government.
On Saturday Matteo Renzi, the 38-year old mayor of Florence who is widely tipped to be the next PD leader, marked out his distance from the current hierarchy and drew an angry reaction from allies of party chief Pier Luigi Bersani.
The PD is a broad church spanning left-wing former Communists like Bersani and economic liberals like Renzi and it has often been prone to squabbles over policy.
The election produced a hung parliament, with the center-left coalition led by the PD winning a majority in the lower house but failing to do so in the Senate, which has equal legislative powers.
Bersani, 61, has said he will try to form a government based on an eight point policy platform but Renzi, a telegenic, American-style politician, made clear in a television interview on Saturday that he thought his leader was unlikely to succeed.
Parliament convenes on Friday and shortly afterwards President Giorgio Napolitano will hold consultations with party chiefs to try to find backing for a coalition.
The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement lead by comedian Beppe Grillo emerged as Italy's largest party at the election, beating the PD into second place.
Renzi, who lost out to Bersani last year in a primary election for the leadership, dismissed a meeting of the party's executive last week to draw up its 8-point plan as "group therapy" in the wake of the election setback.
He suggested the PD was trying to win the 5-Star's backing by offering it positions of power in parliament and tempting its lawmakers to change sides, rather than by challenging it with convincing policies of its own.
Renzi called for the abolition of state financing to parties, a vote-winning move also proposed by Grillo, and also said that if fresh elections are necessary the PD must hold new primaries to decide its leader.
The PD issued a statement on Sunday to say it had dealt with the issue of party financing in its 8-point plan and was not in favor of abolishing a state contribution. Economy spokesman Stefano Fassina, a close ally of Bersani's, attacked Renzi directly.
"Renzi shows little respect for the party he belongs to," he said on Sunday, adding that the PD would get little traction from copying Grillo's policies.
He accused Renzi of "trying to ridicule" the PD and having "an attitude which is not appropriate for a leader".
Renzi's allies hit back, as tensions which had been swept under the carpet during the election campaign re-emerged.
"Instead of squabbling from inside the party hierarchy Fassina should get out and talk to some real people," said lower house deputy Ernesto Carbone.
He added that Renzi's proposal to scrap state funding to parties was not copying Grillo and had already been part of his platform during the primary campaign.
(Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Giles Elgood)