Italy's premier holds his final cabinet meeting

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

ROME (AP) — Outgoing Premier Enrico Letta hosted his final cabinet meeting Friday after his party sacked him in a stunning power play to put Florence's dynamic young mayor at the helm of the Italian government. His rival and the architect of his downfall spent the day doing what he does best, charming ordinary Italians by celebrating Valentine's Day at Florence's city hall with hundreds of married couples.

Letta planned to tender his resignation later Friday to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who after a few days of consultations is expected to ask the head of Letta's Democratic Party, Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, to try to form a government.

The 39-year-old Renzi rallied his party's executives Thursday to back him in an internal vote of no-confidence against Letta, accusing him of failing to lift Italy out of its economic and political doldrums.

The ouster came as national statistics bureau Istat reported Friday that fourth-quarter GDP edged up 0.1 percent, the first positive growth since mid-2011.

Renzi's back-room mutiny was surprising even by Italian political standards, since he had long insisted that he would only gun for the premiership via an election and the popular mandate that would give him. But analysts said he clearly saw an opportunity and seized it, even though the risks of it failing are high.

"Enrico Letta was not a bad prime minister, but he was not seen as getting things done," said James Walston, professor of politics at the American University of Rome. "Renzi promises to get things done. He promises to make the Democratic Party win, and that is his biggest quality at the moment."

It remains to be seen how Italy's shifting political alliances will line up for the required vote of confidence in Parliament once Renzi gets the nod from Napolitano, forms a government and outlines his agenda to kickstart the economy, create jobs and enact the electoral reforms needed to make Italy more governable.

Renzi spent his day basking in victory and opening up Florence's Palazzo Vecchio city hall to hundreds of married couples celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. He is seen as a popular, down-to-earth mayor who has resonated with Italians fed up with Italy's self-absorbed political class.