Former Prime Minister and leader of the Democratic Party (PD), Matteo Renzi, gives a press conference on March 5, 2018, a day after Italy's general elections, at the PD headquarters in Rome. Renzi, leader of the ruling centre-left Democratic Party, said he was resigning after the party suffered a crushing defeat in Sunday's general elections. (ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP)
ROME - Licking its wounds after a crushing electoral defeat in the March 4 general election that saw the advance of populists and rightwingers, Italy's center-left Democratic Party on Monday sought to redefine itself as an opposition force after five years in government.
Former prime minister and resigning Democratic Party leader, Matteo Renzi, deserted an executive meeting at the party's Rome headquarters, where participants approved the new line laid out by deputy party chief and outgoing farms minister, Maurizio Martina.
We intend to deeply respect the vote of all Italians by refusing to become a junior member of a rightwing or populist-led government
Maurizio Martina, deputy party chief, Democratic Party
"We have just one thing to say to the winners: now you no longer have an alibi... citizens voted for you to govern, now do it," Martina tweeted during the meeting, where the party's executive approved his motion for the Democrats to become an opposition party.
This means it will be up to the two relative election winners - the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the rightwing League - to cobble together a government coalition.
"Our defeat was clear-cut," Martina told Democratic leaders in a speech posted online. "We intend to deeply respect the vote of all Italians" by refusing to become a junior member of a rightwing or populist-led government.
He was echoed by League leader Matteo Salvini, who told reporters in televised comments that "Italians didn't vote for us to bring Renzi back into the government" and that he wants to make sure that "workers can retire earlier, small businesses can pay fewer taxes, and illegal immigrants get thrown out".
Meanwhile Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio continued to repeat, as he has since the election a week ago, that the Movement is "open to talks with all political forces" and that if in government, they will "cut waste and fight poverty".
The populist Five Stars pledged to introduce universal income, and prevailed mostly in Italy's impoverished southern regions, where youth unemployment is over 30 percent.
The League succeeded mostly in the wealthier north, where the economy is made up of heavily taxed small and medium businesses.
Italy's head of state, President Sergio Mattarella, is set to broker talks between possible government partners at the beginning of April. This process could take weeks, meaning that Italy likely won't see a new government until the end of next month, if not beyond.