ROME - Former Prime Minister Enrico Letta appears poised to return to frontline Italian politics and take charge of the troubled centre-left Democratic Party (PD), seven years after he was dumped from power in a party coup. The PD, one of the largest parties supporting Mario Draghi's unity government, was thrown into turmoil last week when its leader Nicola Zingaretti announced he was quitting, saying he was "ashamed" by internal wrangling over key positions. His abrupt walkout triggered a PD slump in the polls and many party stalwarts have turned to Letta, who lives in Paris, asking if he would return and steady the ship. "I am grateful for the amount of messages of encouragement I am receiving. I have the PD in my heart and these appeals touch me deeply," Letta wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, asking for 48 hours before taking a final decision. Moderate and pro-European, Letta led a coalition in 2013-2014 that combined centre-left and centre-right parties. He was unceremoniously booted out of office by party rival Matteo Renzi, who said Italy needed more ambitious government. Livid at his downfall, Letta moved to France where he became director of the Jacques Delors Institute think tank and dean of the Paris School of International Affairs at Sciences Po. He let his membership of the PD lapse, but started paying his dues again in 2019 after Renzi quit the group and set up his own party, which registers less than 3% in the polls. Support for the PD fell almost 2 percentage points after Zingaretti resigned, hitting just 16.6% in the polls, making it the fourth largest group in Italy behind the 5-Star Movement, and two rightist parties, the League and the Brothers of Italy. The sharp drop alarmed PD bigwigs who hope that the experienced Letta could quickly restore party fortunes. Zingaretti faced fire from internal enemies for tying the party's fortunes to 5-Star, its allies in the previous government led by Giuseppe Conte, who resigned in January over a coalition rupture triggered by the ever forceful Renzi. Letta was always supportive of Zingaretti, but it was not clear if he would pursue a similar political line if he agrees to take charge of the PD at a meeting called for Sunday. Whoever is picked would need to have their nomination endorsed by a broader party congress, which is not due to be held until 2023, giving the new incumbent time to put their stamp on a party notoriously riven by internal divisions. REUTERS
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