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Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini looks on before a confidence vote at the Senate in Rome, Italy December 14, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi


ROME (Reuters) - A prominent Italian minister said on Friday it would be impossible to hold a national election in June, as the head of the ruling Democratic Party (PD) is urging.

The PD party leader, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, last week called for a PD leadership contest in a bid to reassert his authority, after he lost last year's constitutional reform referendum and resigned in December.

Renzi is expected to resign as party leader at a PD assembly on Sunday. That would probably trigger a leadership contest - which begins with a party congress, followed by a primary vote - and could open the way for an early vote.

But Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, who leads a large PD faction, on Friday urged Renzi to postpone the party congress in an effort to keep the party together. He also argued that the party hasn't got enough time for a congress, a primary and a national election in June.

"We need not rush to hold the congress," Franceschini said in an interview with the newspaper la Repubblica. "There is time, given the fact it's no longer possible to vote in June."

The legislature's term is not due to end until February 2018.

Polls show that Renzi should easily win back control of the party. But PD dissidents are threatening to quit and form a rival party, accusing him of being authoritarian and of dragging the PD away from its leftist roots.

Renzi, in an interview with Corriere della Sera newspaper on Friday, repeated pleas to party rivals not to leave, but gave no signal that he would slow his push for a congress and early vote.

Three-quarters of PD voters do not want a party split, and 64 percent want Renzi to remain the bloc's secretary, an Ixe poll published on Friday by state TV RAI showed.

But many fear the PD will fare badly in local elections scheduled for June, and parliament continues to squabble over changing Italy's proportional electoral laws, which are slightly different for the upper and lower houses.

Under current laws, the party leader has the power to select many of the candidates, meaning Renzi's internal foes might not make it into the next parliament if he keeps his post.

If they form a rival party, the critics would be able to create their own list of candidates and would also bleed votes from the PD, making it harder for Renzi to regain power.

The PD is now polling at about 30 percent, which means it would not be able to govern alone if a vote were held under the current proportional voting systems.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer, editing by Larry King)

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