02/17/2014 04:30 pm ET Updated Apr 19, 2014

Italy's Democratic Illegitimacy

As Matteo Renzi prepares to assume office as Italy's youngest ever prime minister the age of 39, his rise to power marks an unfolding and long overdue generational change of power. However, it does not mark a change of substance and past practices. After all, Renzi's palace coup and ouster of Enrico Letta clearly smacks of old-school Italian politics.

Furthermore, as Italy's third consecutive unelected prime minister, Renzi's appointment will continue to raise serious questions about democratic legitimacy in Italy. He becomes prime minister through the backdoor with no popular mandate that an electoral victory provides. Ironically, Renzi has never participated in a national election. He is not even a member of parliament and yet aims to serve as prime minister for the full parliamentary term lasting until 2018.

Renzi's credibility is also subject to question. He previously promised not to oppose Letta, avoid any coalition with the center-right and to assume power only through elections. Before becoming prime minster, he already reneged on all three counts. This contributes to an image of a calculated opportunist and power-hungry career politician with no national or international experience, or relevant private-sector achievements.

Despite preaching the rhetoric of reform, Renzi will be quickly confronted by the reality of power, including the entrenched and vested interests that have long dominated Italy. Reform in Italy must be about systemic overhaul, not mere window-dressing.

Ultimately, it will be difficult for Renzi to achieve sufficient long-term reforms without some form of popular mandate. He clearly runs the risk of over-promising and under-delivering. Hence, the need for a limited agenda that focuses on key basic reforms. Once completed, elections should eventually take place despite economic conditions being far from ideal and Italy assuming the presidency of the European Union starting July 1, 2014.

The bottom line is that after being led by three consecutive unelected prime ministers, the Italian public deserves the chance to determine its leaders and the restoration of greater legitimacy to the democratic process.