Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi has bounced back to the forefront of national politics with a resounding primary election win to regain leadership of the ruling Democratic Party (PD).
Renzi won 70.01 percent of votes in a internal party ballot of 1.85 million people, according to final tallies Monday.
This represented an emphatic victory for the 42-year-old, although turnout was well down on the 2.8 million who voted in his successful campaign of 2013 and also below the three million of previous primary contests.
Renzi's rivals -- Justice Minister Andrea Orlando and Michele Emiliano, governor of the southern region of Puglia, both from the party's left wing, garnered 19.5 percent and 10.4 percent respectively.
"It is a huge responsibility. I thank from the bottom of my heart those men and women who believe in Italy," tweeted Renzi after it became clear he had won handsomely.
Renzi resigned as prime minister in December after Italians overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional referendum aimed at streamlining the parliamentary system.
In February he quit the leadership of the centre-left PD and sought a new mandate in the teeth of internal opposition.
Armed with his new mandate, he will now go much strengthened into parliamentary elections due by early next year at the latest, insisting his win "is the beginning of a completely new story."
Italian media predicted Renzi would push for an earlier election, in October, seeking to surf on what he hopes will be pro-EU wave both in France this weekend and then in Germany.
However, an early vote first requires MPs to agree on electoral reforms.
In office, Renzi managed to deliver significant labour market reforms and modest growth, while legally recognising gay relationships for the first time.
But the recovery was not strong enough to pay any real political dividends and he alienated many on his party's far-left, who broke away in February to form the Progressive and Democratic Movement (DP).
In a solitary television debate with his rivals before the vote, Renzi vowed to "bring back energy, momentum and vigour to the country", railing against "stagnation that seems to be blocking political and institutional life" since the referendum.
The debate highlighted key differences over national politics, including on a wealth tax which he opposes.
- In Macron's footsteps -
Renzi, who has often cited the "Yes we can" slogan of former US president Barack Obama, is also a supporter of French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, who quit the Socialist Party to found his own centrist movement "En Marche" (On the Move).
Macron on Monday tweeted congratulations to the Italian.
"Bravo to Matteo Renzi, likewise on the move. Let's change Europe together with all progressives," wrote the French presidential favourite.
"Thank you dear Emmanuel! We are with you. Vive la France, vive l'Europe (which we are going to change together)," Renzi replied in French.
Should the upcoming legislative election require the formation of a coalition, Orlando and Emiliano say they would seek to govern with left-wing defectors or other parties on the left.
Renzi, meanwhile, has not ruled out forming an alliance with centre-right leader and former premier Silvio Berlusconi.