From doctor to mafia-hunter: Who will get Italy's top job?

AFP , Friday 9 Dec 2016

Matteo Renzi
The car with Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, leaves the Quirinal presidential palace in Rome, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016 (Photo: AP)

Prime minister Matteo Renzi's resignation has left Italy's top job up for grabs. Who are the frontrunners to replace him?

President Sergio Mattarella would like it to be someone from Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which is still ahead in the polls despite the PM's fall.

But with a rebel faction within the PD plotting to seize the party, and opposition parties determined not to have a Renzi ally at the helm, Mattarella may have no choice but to plump for an institutional rather than political figure.

Padoan, 66, is a seasoned economist with the potential to reassure financial markets and a jittery Europe. Tapped by Renzi in 2013 to be his finance minister -- a job few appeared prepared to do -- Padoan has been a prominent frontline figure, dealing with a banking crisis and wrangling over budget flexibility with Brussels. The professor is considered a safe pair of hands, though some analysts warn he may be too close to Renzi for the opposition's taste.

Delrio, a doctor with nine children, is Renzi's closest ally and confidant. The 56-year-old studied medicine in Britain and Israel and specialised in endocrinology before moving into politics, becoming Renzi's state secretary, then minister of transport in 2015. He would be seen as a continuation of the previous administration, possibly with the plus of being able to bring the PD's rebel wing into line.

Gentiloni, 62, is Italy's foreign minister and a PD stalwart. A former journalist with a degree in political science, he was communications minister in prime minister Romano Prodi's government between 2006 and 2008. Analysts say he is a known and trusted figure in Europe, but may be seen as too much of an establishment figure -- and, once again, too close to Renzi.

Franceschini, 58, is Italy's minister of culture. A former lawyer and occasional novelist, he was initially considered one of the frontrunners for Renzi's job. But Franceschini has since been tied by Italian media reports to three-time billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi. Though he denies linking up with Berlusconi to secure the support of his centre-right Forza Italia party, the rumours are believed to have severely damaged his chances.

The former anti-mafia prosecutor, 71, is Italy's senate speaker and has a straight arrow reputation. He rose to fame in the 1980s as an associate judge in the first "maxi-trial" against the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and led the probe into the murder of Piersanti Mattarella, a Sicilian president mown down by the mob. The slain man was current president Mattarella's older brother. Grasso is the top choice if the job goes to an institutional figure.

Boldrini, 55, is speaker of the lower house of parliament and an outsider's choice. A fierce human rights defender, she would be Italy's first female prime minister if she got the job. A former journalist and spokeswoman for the UN's refugee agency, she has been the victim of violent trolling but is admired by many for her stand against xenophobia, homophobia and violence against women.

That's right, the outgoing 41-year-old prime minister himself is being touted as a possible contender for his own job. Some observers say he fears bowing out now would leave the door open to populist parties like the anti-euro Five Star Movement. But others say Renzi -- already slammed as arrogant by critics -- would be burning his bridges and would risk losing when the country returns to the ballot box, possibly as soon as early next year.

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