MATTEO RENZI, Italy’s former prime minister, has never been one to shrink from a bet. On February 19th he is set to stake all his remaining chips by resigning as leader of the governing Democratic Party (PD). It will be the second time in three months he has quit a top job, having resigned as prime minister in December after losing a referendum on constitutional reform. But this time he is hoping that, in the ensuing contest, he will be victorious. Why should he need, or want, re-election?

Since he was elected party leader in 2013, Mr Renzi has faced dogged opposition from inside the PD. His adversaries include left-wingers who dislike his business-friendly policies and members of the party’s old guard. The latest disagreement is over the timing of the next election. Neither side can enforce a date: it depends on the president, Sergio Mattarella, who has refused to dissolve parliament until Italy has new electoral rules that apply compatibly to both houses. Provided a new electoral law can be agreed, Mr Renzi wants a vote soon afterwards so he can win back the premiership as the PD’s candidate; his critics want to delay so that he gradually ceases to be the obvious choice. A leadership contest, involving primary elections, would put the issue beyond doubt. By resigning, Mr Renzi can make that contest unavoidable.

Just as he has made a lot of enemies in his own party, Mr Renzi has plenty of critics among the voters who can take part in the primaries. The economy remained at a virtual standstill on his watch. A big gap opened up between his bombastic promises and the relatively modest reforms his government managed to introduce. Yet he nevertheless remains Italy’s most trusted party leader (although that is a low bar). As such, he is unlikely to lose.

The greater risk is that, in imposing his will, Mr Renzi will turn the fracture in the PD into a much wider split. His uncompromising use of his tactical genius has cost him dearly before: in 2015, he outwitted the centre-right leader, Silvio Berlusconi, to get Mr Mattarella elected president. The result was that an irate and humiliated Mr Berlusconi withdrew from a pact to support Mr Renzi’s constitutional reforms in parliament. Without broad parliamentary support, Mr Renzi had to call the referendum that eventually led to his departure from office.