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Renzi Favorite to Lead Italy’s Democratic Party as Alitalia Plunges in Crisis | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is campaigning for leadership of his country’s Democratic Party. (AFP)

Voting opened for the election of a new leader of the Italy’s Democratic Party, with former Prime Minister Mattero Renzi tipped to win a new mandate.

Citizens lined up at makeshift gazebos set up around the country Sunday. It was unclear when results will be announced.

Renzi quit as leader of the fractured party after a national referendum defeat on reforms he championed while premier also forced him to resign the premiership in December.

Challenging him in the primary are Justice Minister Andrea Orlando and Michele Emiliano, governor of the southern Puglia region.

The Democrats face a stiff challenge from the populist 5-Star Movement in a national election due in early 2018 at the latest.

Left-wing hardliners split from the Democrats and formed a new party, resenting Renzi’s authoritarian style and centrist leanings.

Meanwhile, Italians are watching their flag carrier Alitalia go into yet another financial tailspin, and a growing number of them believe it would be better for the country if it crashed.

Outraged at repeated state bailouts that have cost taxpayers more than 7 billion euros ($7.62 billion) over a decade, many Italians are taking to social media to urge the government to resist the political temptation to rush to its rescue again.

“In electoral terms, Alitalia is worth nothing. It’s a dead weight,” Angelino Ghinelli tweeted into a social media storm that has not gone unnoticed in Rome, where ministers have so far shown a strong reluctance to make any guarantees.

“Enough with saving Alitalia,” wrote Cinzia Briguglio, one of around 1,000 signatories to an online petition that sprang up this week, calling for the government not to get involved.

Consumer groups have also chimed in, including one, Codacons, which has threatened to ask Italy’s Corte dei Conti, a judicial auditor, to examine any state bailout. The court can fine officials, including ministers, for wasting public funds.

An opinion poll published on Friday, four days after Alitalia workers voted to reject a union-backed rescue plan proposed by management, shows that 77 percent of Italians believed the airline should be left to fail.

Without state support, Alitalia appears headed for collapse. Rival airlines show little interest in buying it, and creditors refuse to lend more money after workers last Monday voted down a rescue plan that would have cut 1,700 jobs and trimmed salaries.

Rome has thrown Alitalia a short-term lifeline, a bridging loan of up to 400 million euros to see it through a bankruptcy process, under which an administrator will decide if it can be sold as a going concern or should be liquidated.

However, the government has ruled out renationalizing the former state-owned business, once a symbol of Italy’s post-war economic boom but now struggling to compete at home against low-cost carriers Ryanair (RYA.I) and EasyJet (EZJ.L).

Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan has gone a step further, saying the government is unwilling, directly or indirectly, to invest any capital in it.

But with a general election due by May 2018, few Italians believe the ruling Democratic Party will really stand by and watch Alitalia crash and its 12,500 workers lose their jobs.

Renzi has said he will come up with a plan to rescue the airline by mid-May, assuming he emerges from Democratic Party primaries as its newly re-elected leader.

The hardening of public opinion against Alitalia, though, makes the political calculations difficult — and neither Renzi nor his party’s main political rival, the 5 Star Movement, has advanced any concrete proposals for Alitalia.

Five Star’s leaders have refused to be drawn on whether they would be willing to see public money put into the company.

“This time around the public is very divided on the issue which makes things difficult,” said Andrea Giuricin, transport expert at Milan’s Bicocca university and author of “The endless privatization of Alitalia”.

“This is why political parties like Five Star or politicians like Renzi don’t yet have a clear position on the issue, are not yet certain what stand to take.”