Step­ping down

Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi says he will re­sign af­ter his re­forms are de­feated in a ref­er­en­dum.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

In the end, Mat­teo Renzi’s fall was even quicker than his re­mark­ably rapid rise to the sum­mit of Ital­ian pol­i­tics.

Hours af­ter suf­fer­ing a crush­ing de­feat in a ref­er­en­dum on con­sti­tu­tional re­form on Sun­day, the cen­ter-left prime min­is­ter an­nounced on Monday that he would quit.

Elec­tions were sched­uled for spring 2018, but Renzi’s res­ig­na­tion could prompt their being moved up a year.

Italy’s youngest leader, he was just 39 when he took of­fice in Fe­bru­ary 2014 via an in­ter­nal coup in his Demo­cratic Party.

“En­rico stai sereno (En­rico be calm),” he re­as­sured then­prime min­is­ter En­rico Letta in a now in­fa­mous tweet, just be­fore us­ing his con­trol of the party ma­chine to oust him.

In only three months, Renzi had gone from the rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity of the mayor’s of­fice in Florence to running the coun­try.

The man­ner of his rise earned him a rep­u­ta­tion as a ruth­less schemer. But it did not pre­vent him se­cur­ing im­pres­sive ap­proval rat­ings.

With mem­o­ries of Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni’s years in power still fresh, Ital­ians seemed to buy into the en­er­getic new­comer’s prom­ises of rapid re­form in all walks of life.

His op­ti­mistic agenda of change echoed the tone of US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” cam­paign to win the US pres­i­dency and Renzi styled him­self as an out­sider bent on shak­ing up Italy’s po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment and the coun­try.

He lived up to that la­bel in some ways: Leav­ing his school- teacher wife Ag­nese and three children at the fam­ily home in Tus­cany while he worked late into the night in his Rome of­fice, es­chew­ing the noc­tur­nal charms of the Eter­nal City.

Din­ner with Obama

But he was soon to find him­self fend­ing off claims that he was just another in­sider politi­cian, tak­ing the blame for long­stand­ing prob­lems he could never fix quickly enough.

Af­ter 1,000 days in of­fice, Renzi was able to boast last month that he had steered the econ­omy out of re­ces­sion, got Ital­ians spend­ing again and im­proved the coun­try’s bat­tered public fi­nances.

He also en­joyed sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal vic­to­ries: A con­tro­ver­sial Jobs Act was passed and a new elec­toral law was adopted, al­beit one that is now in the pro­cess of being re­vised.

All were seen as ev­i­dence of a deft po­lit­i­cal touch and Renzi’s progress was noted out­side Italy. “Mat­teo has the right ap­proach and it is be­gin­ning to show re­sults,” Obama said be­fore treat­ing the Ren­zis to the last of­fi­cial White House din­ner of his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But his bullish style came to be seen as tainted by ar­ro­gance, in­clud­ing by some slighted grandees of his own party.

TONY GEN­TILE / REUTERS

Sup­port­ers of the “No” fac­tion for a ref­er­en­dum in front of Chigi palace in Rome, Italy, on Monday.

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