Andrea Orlando, Italy’s justice minister, is challenging Matteo Renzi for the leadership of the country’s ruling centre-left Democratic party, in a move that represents the most serious threat to the former prime minister’s hopes for a political comeback.

Mr Orlando said he was becoming a candidate because he believed that that the “PD needs profound change in order to be truly useful to Italy and the problems of Italians who are experiencing difficult times these days”.

The move comes after Michele Emiliano, the regional governor of Puglia, announced earlier this week that he too would run for the PD leadership after being one of the most ardent internal left-wing critics of Mr Renzi.

Mr Orlando’s candidacy could be more worrying for Mr Renzi. As a mainstream PD politician he could unite the feuding factions of the party. Nonetheless, Mr Renzi remains the frontrunner for the post when the leadership contest is decided in the coming months.

Mr Renzi triggered the leadership contest this week in a bid to rebuild his legitimacy in the wake of the defeat of his flagship constitutional reforms in a referendum last December.

Mr Renzi had been prime minister for nearly three years at the time of the vote, and was forced to step down. The next national elections in Italy are due within a year.

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