ROME (Reuters) - The center-right candidate narrowly defeated in mayoral elections in Milan last month said he wanted to unite Italy's conservatives nationally to oust Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the next election.
Stefano Parisi, 59, a former business leader and government consultant on labor and economic issues, won plaudits for his campaign in Milan, where he united disparate center-right parties to come within a whisker of defeating Renzi's candidate.
The center-right has been in disarray since former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was banned from public office following a conviction for tax fraud in 2013. In recent months Parisi has often been tipped as a possible successor.
Despite its divisions, opinion polls show that if the conservative parties were to unite behind a single leader they would have roughly the same support as Renzi's Democratic Party and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.
Parisi told La Stampa daily on Thursday that he wanted to regenerate the centre-right and would organize a convention in Milan in September to discuss a policy platform.
Known for his soft-spoken and moderate tones, Parisi will need to win the backing of the anti-immigrant Northern League, Berlusconi's Forza Italia and smaller right-wing parties and their voters before the next national election due in 2018.
"I am appealing to moderate public opinion which needs to be woken up ... we need a renewal, a regeneration, and that is what I want to achieve," he said.
Parisi said the centre-right should take a tough line on immigration, tackle bureaucracy and stop asking for exemptions to European Union fiscal rules.
He said he would vote against Renzi's proposal to reduce the role of the Senate (upper house) in a referendum to be held in the autumn, arguing that the reform would "increase confusion" rather than simplify lawmaking procedures.
Renzi has repeatedly said he will resign and quit politics if he loses the referendum, the result of which appears highly uncertain.
(Reporting By Gavin Jones; Editing by Keith Weir)