Andrea Orlando, Italy's justice minister, has announced plans to challenge former prime minister Metto Renzi for leadership of the Democratic Party (PD). Orlando's decision is expected to throw a wrench in Renzi's plans to make a political comeback and heightens the chances of a party split.
"I have decided to run because I believe the PD has to change deeply if it is to be truly useful to Italy and the problems of Italians, who are experiencing very difficult times" the 48-year-old mentioned in a post on his Facebook page.
The PD is in the midst of a damaging upheaval as various wings of the centre-left party continue to lock horns. Amidst the internal turmoil, Renzi resigned as head of the PD on 19 February but said that he would stand for the position in the upcoming party elections.
The part has been suffering from internal issues ever since Renzi stepped down as PM in December after he lost a referendum on proposed constitutional reforms. Internal party critics have accused the 42-year-old of pushing too far to the right and lay blame on him for losses in the local elections.
Puglia Governor Michele Emiliano has also thrown his hat in the ring for party leadership but the former prime minister continues to be a top choice for the position. However, Orlando's decision to contest the election could pose a bigger threat considering the justice minister has more credibility within the party.
"Orlando is a serious figure who comes to the contest with a larger chunk of the party than Emiliano does," Vincenzo Scarpetta, an analyst at Open Europe in London told Financial Times. "But I do not believe either of them have the support to beat Renzi in the primary, so this could actually help him by showing there will be a genuine debate and not just a coronation."