* Letta to tender resignation on Friday
* Renzi says time for a new phase has arrived
* Says politicians have a duty to take risks when needed
* Showdown follows tension over slow pace of reform
By James Mackenzie
ROME, Feb 13 Italian centre-left leader Matteo
Renzi forced party rival Enrico Letta to resign as prime
minister on Thursday after criticising his government's failure
to pass major reforms, opening the way for Italy's third
administration in a year.
Letta's decision to quit came after the Democratic Party
(PD), the largest party in the ruling coalition, supported a
call by its 39-year-old leader Renzi for a more ambitious
government to pull Italy out of its economic slump.
"Italy cannot live in a situation of uncertainty and
instability. We are at a crossroads," Renzi told a meeting of
the PD's 140-strong leadership committee.
Letta plans to tender his resignation to President Giorgio
Napolitano on Friday. Napolitano is then expected to call on
Renzi to form a new administration.
Before that happens, however, there is likely to be
Letta's coalition partner, the New Centre Right party, said
it would demand concessions on policy and it did not expect the
government necessarily to last a full term until 2018.
"We're not taking anything for granted, and we're not even
sure this attempt will end smoothly," party leader Angelino
Alfano said at a news conference.
Growing criticism over the slow pace of economic reform had
left Letta, a low-key moderate appointed in April to lead the
cross-party coalition patched together after last year's
deadlocked elections, increasingly isolated.
Appreciated by Italy's international partners for keeping a
lid on public finances, Letta fell victim to Renzi's ruthless
determination to set a faster tempo for the government.
Renzi has promised to loosen strict hiring and firing rules
to make companies more nimble and shows less regard than Letta
for European Union budget rules, saying structural reforms
should outweigh rigid deficit limits.
"People have accused me and the PD of having an outsize
ambition. I don't deny this. We all need to have this, from me
to the last party member," Renzi said in his speech to the
party's leadership committee. "I am asking you to help us get
Italy out of the mire," he said.
The latest bout of turmoil in Italy, the euro zone's
third-largest economy, has so far had little impact on financial
markets. Last year's political stalemate after elections, in
contrast, led to much market volatility.
However, the continual uncertainty has held back any
concerted effort to revive the economy or overhaul a political
system blamed for hampering any deep reform programme.
In his speech, Renzi acknowledged that forcing Letta out to
form a new government carried risks for both the government and
himself personally. But he said there was no alternative.
"Putting oneself on the line right now carries an element of
risk, but a politician has the duty to take risks at certain
moments," he said. Renzi added that he saw the new government
lasting until 2018.
If Renzi is named prime minister, he would be Italy's third
unelected leader in succession after the technocrat Mario Monti
and Letta, who was appointed last April after weeks of fruitless
wrangling between rival parties.
A sharp-talking politician, whose main experience of
government has been as mayor of Florence, Renzi is not a member
of parliament and has never stood in a national election. He has
always said that he would want to become prime minister only
with a clear mandate from voters.
However, he said that until the voting law blamed for the
last stalemate has been changed, a new ballot was not possible.
"The idea of elections has a certain attraction but it
wouldn't guarantee a certain victory for anyone," he said during
Having burst onto the political scene promising renewal and
a break with the Byzantine traditions of Italian politics, Renzi
may now gain power with the same type of backroom manoeuvring
that characterised revolving door Christian Democrat governments
of the past.
"This is a very dangerous operation by Renzi both for the
country and for himself," Giovanni Toti, political adviser to
former centre-right Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, told RAI
"He was supposed to be the outsider who was going to renew
the PD. Now, as soon as he gets close to power, he's behaving
exactly like all the others," he said.