Speculation over Enrico Letta as Italian premier

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Speculation over Enrico Letta as Italian premierDemocratic Party's Enrico Letta meets journalists after talks with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, in Rome's Quirinale presidential palace, Tuesday, April 23, 2013. President Giorgio Napolitano launches his unprecedented second term with accelerated consultations aimed at forming a new government. Napolitano, 87, has urged parties to quickly agree on a new government, chastising them for treating the notion of a political alliance as a "horror" and urging them to face the reality that no party in Feb. 24-25 elections won control of both houses. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)(Credit: AP)

ROME (AP) — Italy’s president summoned Enrico Letta, the No. 2 leader of the Democratic Party, for consultations Wednesday amid indications he would be tapped to form a government to end Italy’s political paralysis and set the country back on the path of reform and economic growth.

The office of President Giorgio Napolitano said in a statement that Letta, a 46-year-old longtime center-left lawmaker, had been asked to come to the presidential palace at 12:30 p.m. (1030GMT).

Letta’s improbable candidacy for premier came after his own party chief, Pier Luigi Bersani, resigned after failing to form a government following inconclusive February elections and then failing to unite the party behind a candidate for the Italian presidency.

Napolitano was eventually re-elected to an unprecedented second term as president. His core task is to end the political stalemate that followed the elections, which left the Democrats and their allies in control of the lower Chamber of Deputies but not the Senate.

Letta’s first job would be to put together a cabinet that can win broad, cross-party support and pass a vote of confidence in Parliament.

Napolitano spent all day Tuesday meeting with representatives of Italy’s main political parties to sound them out on who could garner the support of the two main blocs in Parliament, the center-left Democrats and the center-right People of Freedom party of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Napolitano reportedly was choosing between Letta and Giuliano Amato, a 74-year-old two-time premier, both of whom have broad support. The third-largest vote-getter in the February elections, the upstart anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, has vowed to be in opposition to any government.

After meeting with Napolitano on Tuesday, Berlusconi didn’t show his cards, saying only that his People of Freedom Party wanted a “lasting and strong government.” Letta has one thing going for him as far as the center-right is concerned: He’s the nephew of Berlusconi’s longtime right-hand man, Gianni Letta.

Enrico Letta, for his part, laid out the party’s priorities after meeting with Napolitano, calling for urgent measures to address the grave recession in the euro-zone’s third-largest economy, where unemployment is at 11.6 percent and youth unemployment at 37.8 percent; and to enact a series of reforms including a reduction in the number of parliamentarians and passage of a new electoral law.

“Without political reforms, there’s no way out of the economic crisis,” Letta told reporters.

If he has chosen Letta over the seasoned Amato, Napolitano would not only be giving the Democrats a chance to regroup under a new leader but also would be answering a demand from voters for Italy’s largely discredited old political guard to give way to a new generation.

In 1998, Letta became at age 32 the youngest government minister in Italy’s history when then-Premier Massimo D’Alema named him minister for European policy. He had other ministerial posts in subsequent center-left governments and in 2008 won a Parliament seat with the newly formed Democratic Party.

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