ROME, July 8 (Xinhua) -- Ex-premier Matteo Renzi came under fire from leftist opposition parties after he suggested Italy cap the number of asylum seekers it takes in, local media reported Saturday.
Critics charged Renzi -- who is the leader of the ruling center-left Democratic Party and its candidate for the premier's post -- is courting rightwing voters ahead of the next national election, due in spring 2018.
Italy's current policy is to take in tens of thousands of people fleeing war and famine in Africa and the Middle East, after they get rescued off unseaworthy boats along the so-called Central Mediterranean route from Libya to Sicily.
"Cap on migrant numbers. Renzi under fire: he's like Salvini," La Stampa national daily titled in reference to comments that Renzi is chasing supporters of Matteo Salvini, the leader of the rightwing, anti-immigrant Northern League party.
Salvini's party made strong gains in local elections across Italy last month, which saw the Democratic Party lose key strongholds.
"Let's help migrants in their own homes. Controversy over Renzi's phrase, which resembles a League slogan," wrote La Repubblica daily paper.
"Let's help migrants in their own homes, Renzi's new slogan sets internet alight," Corriere della Sera daily similarly titled.
"Renzi chases the right on xenophobic grounds in hopes of picking up votes," Senator Loredana De Petris from the small opposition Italian Left (SI) party tweeted on Friday.
Her comment and others like it came soon after the former premier published an article in which he said Italy must get rid of its "do-gooder mentality" and its "guilt over those less fortunate than ourselves".
"If someone is at risk of drowning, obviously we have a duty to save him," wrote Renzi. "But we do not have a moral duty to take him in," the ex-premier wrote in Democratica, the party's online magazine.
Letting everyone in indiscriminately "would be an ethical, political, social and ultimately economic disaster," Renzi wrote.
Italy has no moral duty to take everyone in, but it does have a moral duty to help those in need in their own countries, Renzi added. "Clearly we need to establish a cap on migrants, a closed number," the former premier said, adding that the responsibility for taking asylum seekers in must be spread out equally with other European countries.
"An excess of immigration doesn't do anyone any good," Renzi wrote.
On Thursday, the former premier also suggested Italy should withhold EU payments if partner countries don't do their part on migrants.
"Let us cut financing to countries who don't respect accords on migrants. They shut down European ports? We block European funds," Renzi tweeted on July 6.
Renzi's article was an excerpt from his book Avanti! (Italian for Forward!), due out next week.