Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (R), Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni (2nd R) and members of the Democratic Party (PD) attend a meeting in Rome, Italy February 19, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli(reuters_tickers)
ROME (Reuters) - Italy's ruling Democratic Party (PD) will hold its leadership contest on April 30, the centre-left group announced on Friday, a decision that effectively rules out any snap national election in June.
Looking to re-establish his authority over the feuding PD, former prime minister Matteo Renzi resigned as party secretary general last Sunday to open the way for a re-election battle that he hopes will see grass-roots members rally to his cause.
Renzi quit as premier in December after a crushing defeat in a referendum on his constitutional reform drive and handed over the reins of power to his political ally Paolo Gentiloni.
He has called for national elections to be brought forward to June from the scheduled 2018, eager for a swift return to high office. With that in mind, he wanted to wrap up the PD leadership vote in early April to enable a snap ballot.
However, his party rivals asked for more time to prepare for the contest and PD directors meeting on Friday agreed to hold the vote on April 30 - too late to then organise a parliamentary election before the summer, politicians said.
"It seems that this shuts the door on the debate on holding an election in June," senior PD figure Piero Fassino said.
Renzi has flown to the United States to visit tech companies and had no immediate comment.
Two rivals have so far said they will challenge Renzi for the PD leadership - Justice Minister Andrea Orlando and Michele Emiliano, the governor of the southern Puglia region. Other candidates have until March 6 to put their names forward.
The party has been in turmoil since the referendum rout and a vocal minority of members have accused Renzi of arrogance, saying he has dragged the party too far to the right.
A group of leftist PD dissidents announced this week that they were leaving to form a breakaway party, however the number of renegades appears to be smaller than originally thought, possibly limiting the impact on PD support at the ballot box.
An opinion poll published by SWG on Friday said the new movement would win just 3.2 percent of the vote, leaving the PD on 28 percent - still the largest party in Italy. The anti-system 5-Star Movement was second-placed on 25.3 percent.
If elections are not held in June, the next possible date would be late September. Failing that, the legislature would carry on until its natural end in early 2018.
(Reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alison Williams)