Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi speaks during a press conference on the election results, in Rome, Monday, March 5, 2018. Italy's ex-Premier Matteo Renzi says his center-left party will not join any government led by the anti-immigrant League party or the populist 5-Star Movement, the two victorious forces in Italy's election. Renzi acknowledged that his party suffered a "total defeat" in Sunday's general election and said he would resign as party leader after a new government has been sworn in. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

Renzi lashes out, seeks to stem Democrat support for 5-Stars

March 06, 2018 - 10:06 am

ROME (AP) — The former Italian premier, Matteo Renzi, has challenged members of his defeated Democrats to publicly declare if they'll support the 5-Star Movement, throwing down the gauntlet as he tries to prevent his party from fracturing and backing its political nemesis.

Renzi took to Facebook on Tuesday after national election results showed his once-dominant Democratic Party had brought the center-left to its worst showing ever, with the coalition taking less than 23 percent of the vote.

The center-right coalition had 37 percent and the anti-establishment 5-Stars 32 percent. Neither obtained enough to govern.

That outcome has kicked off weeks of horse-trading as each potential governing force tries to pick up support from elsewhere, including from disillusioned Democrats who might be tempted to back the 5-Stars.

"For me, the Democratic Party has to be where the people put us: in the opposition," Renzi wrote. "If anyone from our party thinks otherwise, let him or her say so," either in an upcoming party meeting or in Parliament.

Renzi drew criticism from within the Democrats when he announced Monday that he was delaying his resignation as Democratic Party secretary until after the government is formed. The delay was seen as a maneuver to stem any potential Democrats from jumping ship to back the 5-Stars, but critics also questioned Renzi's motives and called it a "fake" resignation.

A clearly upset Renzi reminded his supporters that both the 5-Stars and the anti-immigrant League that now controls the center-right coalition have insulted the Democrats and "represent the opposite of our values."

"They're anti-European, anti-political and have used a language of hatred," Renzi wrote. "They said we were corrupt, mafiosi, and that we have blood on our hands because of immigration. I don't think they've changed their mind overnight."

His stark warning suggested that the threat of PD defections or support to the 5-Stars is very real. Analysts have noted that the stunning success of the 5-Stars, a grassroots movement that only was launched nine ago, came in great part at the expense of the Democrats, including in their onetime stronghold of Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy.

Researchers at the Bologna-based Cattaneo Institute, analyzing data from a select number of cities, concluded that of the 2.6 million voters the Democrats lost since the 2013 general election, "relevant numbers" went to the 5-Stars, as well as to a lesser degree the League and a new left-wing party.

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