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Renzi Seeks Wide Party Victory to Build Clout Over Italy’s Letta

Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi
Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi has been mayor of his hometown since 2009. Photographer: Claudio Giovannini/AFP via Getty Images

Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, the favorite to win today’s leadership election for Italy’s biggest political party, needs every vote he can get.

“The final outcome depends on the turnout,” Chiara Corsa, an economist with UniCredit SpA in Milan, said in a Dec. 6 research note citing predictions for 1.5 million to 2 million voters. “A lower turnout has the potential to reduce the margin of Renzi’s victory and therefore weaken his leadership.’

Turnout will determine how much influence the next general secretary of the Democratic Party will be able to bring over Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s unruly parliamentary coalition. It will also signal whether Renzi, 38, has enough support to challenge fellow Democrat Letta and plot a course for snap elections that may eventually lead to the premiership.

Polling stations are open across the country until 8 p.m. with results expected later or early tomorrow.

Opinion polls, including separate surveys on Nov. 28 by Ixe and Quorum, put Renzi more than 30 percentage points ahead of his closest challenger, the ex-communist lawmaker Giovanni Cuperlo. The Quorum poll forecast 67 percent of the votes for Renzi, with a 3.9-point margin of error, while Ixe gave the mayor 56 percent, with a margin of 3.1 percent.

The new leader of the Democratic Party, known as the PD, will be positioned to make policy demands of Letta, 47, as he seeks to recover from a series of parliamentary setbacks. The prime minister, who has served seven months, is seeking to retain his parliamentary majority until at least 2015 to rewrite the election law and pass measures to stimulate hiring and investment.

Italy needs to rewrite its election rules after major parts of the law were declared unconstitutional last week.

Broad Electorate

Renzi has been embraced by PD voters for his ability to appeal to a broader electorate. The party lost its lead in opinion polls ahead of the general election in February and finished without enough parliamentary seats to govern alone. Letta formed his government in April after persuading former premiers Silvio Berlusconi and Mario Monti to join the PD in a makeshift coalition.

The PD holds more than half the seats in the coalition. Renzi, who has been mayor of his hometown since 2009, has argued for labor market flexibility. He has been backed by former European Central Bank executive board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi and Davide Serra, the managing partner of London hedge fund Algebris Investments.

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