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Renzi: The down and out former darling

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Rome (AFP)

Matteo Renzi, Italy's outspoken former premier looks on his way out after leading his party to election disaster, an alarming change in fortune for a man who just a few years ago was considered the darling of Italian politics.

The centre-left coalition led by Renzi's Democratic Party (PD), in power going into the elections, is set to pick up just 23.6 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, down on the last polling figures allowed before the election and a huge blow to the PD's chances of being part of the next government.

With over two-thirds of the vote counted, the PD itself has under 20 percent, the red line figure that has Italian media speculating that the usually bullish Tuscan could step down as leader, despite having only won the party's primaries in a landslide in April.

According to forecasts by the Corriere della Sera daily, the PD is on course for just 107 seats in the lower house Chamber of Deputies and 45 in the Senate, a collapse from the 297 and 111 seats obtained five years ago under Renzi's predecessor Pier Luigi Bersani.

The result will be particularly humiliating for a man whose party clinched 40 percent of the vote in the 2014 European elections.

"If the early voting data is confirmed he has to deal with the consequences... by resigning," La Repubblica wrote on Monday.

Often accused of an arrogant or authoritarian leadership style, the former premier never managed to deliver on his ambitious promises to revamp Italy and cast away the political old guard.

In 2012, with his sights set on party leadership, he vowed to make Italy the country "where you get a job because of what you know and not who you know," said L'Espresso.

But today he is often accused of surrounding himself with his chosen few, frequently fellow Tuscans, who have done little to boost his reputation.

One of them is Maria-Elena Boschi.

A key minister in Renzi's former government, the glamorous politician has been dogged by rumours she had a hand in the 2015 state bailout of Etruria bank, where her father was a board member.

She remained, nonetheless, one of Renzi's top picks in any future government. A government in which the PD now looks to be playing no part.

- 'The scrapper' -

Renzi became the country's youngest prime minister in 2014, at the age of just 39.

Showing a tireless work ethic while his wife, Agnese, and three children stayed home in Tuscany, the former boy scout came to office with a vow to revive Italy's lethargic economy.

He managed to deliver his flagship labour market reforms and modest growth, while overseeing the granting of legal recognition to gay relationships for the first time.

But the recovery was not strong enough to generate any real political dividends, and Renzi's domestic fall from grace came in December 2016, when Italians rejected his proposal for constitutional reform in a referendum.

His dream of a "simpler, more competitive and more courageous" Italy lay in tatters and Renzi resigned as premier.

During his time in power, Renzi alienated many on his party's far left, who broke away last year to become part of the leftwing Liberi e Uguali (Free and Equal) alliance.

For now he still heads what remains the largest centre-left party in the Italian parliament, but the PD's catastrophe on Sunday has all but torpedoed the possibility a broad German-style coalition between it and Berlusconi's Forza Italia, who also performed worse than expected.

The two political heavyweights were at one time allied over the need for constitutional reform and share political common ground on issues such as Europe, but "Renzusconi," as Renzi's left-wing opponents often mockingly called him, now looks all out of options.

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