Italy parliament fails to elect state president in slap to Bersani

Italy’s parliament failed to elect a new state president in the first two votes on Thursday, with a center-left rebellion against leader Pier Luigi Bersani torpedoing his official candidate and prolonging political stalemate.

Until the new president is elected, the paralysis hobbling attempts to form a government since February’s inconclusive general election will continue but a chaotic day of voting on Thursday showed how fractured the political landscape remains.

Bersani’s candidate Franco Marini, a former Senate speaker, fell far short of the required two-thirds majority of the 1,007 electors in the first vote and in the second he won no votes at all, with many members of both center-left and center-right blocs casting blank ballots.

Political sources said the casting of blank ballots was intended to protect Marini from further humiliation after a center-left rebellion against his candidacy made it impossible to win the two thirds majority of electors from both houses of parliament plus regional representatives.

Marini’s failure, in a vote which is key to filling a government vacuum since the deadlocked general election in February, was a slap in the face for Bersani. He badly split his party by nominating Marini in a deal with center-right boss Silvio Berlusconi.

Bersani told reporters he would meet the center-left electors to decide their next move ahead of a third vote on Friday morning. After that vote, a simple majority is required to elect a new president.

Bersani said he needed to accept that the election had entered “a new phase”, indicating Marini, 80, would be dropped as a deeply divisive candidate. The center-left would make a new proposal for the presidential election, he said.

Many rebellious center-left parliamentarians voted in the secret ballot for academic Stefano Rodota, candidate of the populist 5-Star Movement of former comic Beppe Grillo.

Nichi Vendola, head of Bersani’s leftist ally SEL, said nominating Marini was a mistake. “Marini was a candidate who united the center right, not the center left,” he said.

He said unless things changed, his 46 representatives would keep voting for Rodota.

Marini’s failure could wreck Bersani’s deal with Berlusconi which is aimed at helping him form a minority government.

Bersani has repeatedly refused to agree to Berlusconi’s demands that they form a broad coalition together. But it is widely believed he wants to parley an agreement on the presidency with center-right willingness to support a minority center-left government.


The vote for a successor to President Giorgio Napolitano, whose term ends on May 15, is a crucial step towards resolving the stalemate since an inconclusive election in February which left no party with enough support to form a government.

However the choice of Marini provoked fury in Bersani’s Democratic Party (PD) and an open revolt by his rival, Matteo Renzi, the 38-year-old mayor of Florence.

Renzi had described the 80-year-old Marini as “a candidate from the last century” who had no charisma or international standing, adding that he was only chosen because he was acceptable to Berlusconi.

“The PD is in fragments, it doesn’t exist anymore,” Renato Brunetta, the parliamentary leader of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party, told Canale 5 television.

Failure to win the election of a candidate like Marini who is acceptable to Berlusconi could lead to the PD abandoning hopes of a deal with the center right and going for a candidate like former Prime Minister Romano Prodi, one of Berlusconi’s oldest political enemies.

Such an outcome is widely seen as likely to lead to an election within months.

The head of state is a largely ceremonial figure but has a number of vital political functions, as Napolitano demonstrated in 2011 when he put Mario Monti at the head of a government of technocrats to replace the scandal-plagued Berlusconi.

It will be up to the new president to end the political deadlock left by the election, either by persuading the parties to come to an accord that would allow a government to be formed or by dissolving parliament and calling a new national vote.

February’s election gave Bersani’s center-left alliance control of the lower house of parliament but short of the Senate majority it needed to form a government.

The 61-year-old former industry minister has faced growing pressure from Renzi and others in his party after throwing away a 10-point opinion poll lead before the vote.

Source: Reuters


Italy’s “wise men” seek to end political crisis

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano expressed despair on Tuesday at fierce criticism of his latest plan to end a post-election deadlock that has raised fears of months of instability in the euro zone’s third largest economy.

Two groups of “wise men” appointed by Napolitano to try to forge a policy compromise between squabbling parties to end the impasse since the February 24-25 election started work on Tuesday. Napolitano said they would report back in 8-10 days.

The 87-year-old head of state reacted angrily to suggestions from the center-right of Silvio Berlusconi that his plan, which came after all other efforts to find a government failed, were a useless waste of time which the economy could ill afford.

“After seven years I am ending my mandate in a surreal way, finding myself the subject of absurd reactions, suspicions and incomprehensible paranoias, from the harmless to the unhinged,” Napolitano was quoted as saying by Corriere della Sera daily.

Italy is deep in its longest recession for 20 years and although markets have so far remained relatively sanguine about the political deadlock, the economy desperately needs a stable government to unblock decades of sluggish growth.

There are also fears Italy’s borrowing costs could shoot up dangerously if the impasse finally starts to spook investors.

Since the election, the parties have refused to budge at all from irreconcilable positions that “made one despair of the possibility of governing this country,” Napolitano said.

Even the experts themselves seemed pessimistic about their chances of success and Napolitano’s move may be aimed more at letting the situation “decant” for a bit longer in the hope that the parties will finally agree to a compromise.

Napolitano appointed the commissions after center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani failed to gather enough support for a government despite a week of efforts.

The president’s own attempt to dislodge the parties from entrenched positions also faltered last Friday.

The election resulted in three main blocs, none of which has enough support in parliament to govern alone. The center-left holds a majority in the lower house but not in the Senate.


The two working groups, one of which will discuss social-economic reforms and the other institutional changes headed by a new electoral law, include representatives of the main center-left and center-right blocs, the head of the national statistics agency, legal experts and a senior Bank of Italy official.

Berlusconi’s center-right has been particularly harsh in its criticism of Napolitano’s move – unusual in a country where the president enjoys huge respect and deference.

They say that either Bersani agrees to a broad alliance with them or the country should return to the polls in June, apparently reflecting Berlusconi’s fears that the center-left is plotting to appoint a leftwing successor to Napolitano in May.

Bersani on Tuesday again rejected a governing coalition with Berlusconi and said new elections would not fix Italy’s problems. He also said Berlusconi’s attempts to pick the new president were “unacceptable”.

Napolitano’s wise men idea was also criticized by populist 5-Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo who called the experts “domestic carers for democracy”.

“At the end of the day what is it? A fake coalition government ruled by the president? I have seen the names but my puzzlement remains,” Grillo’s Senate leader Vito Crimi said.

One of the experts, constitutional judge Valerio Onida, shot back at Grillo: “In this parliament, they need babysitters more than carers.”

But he added that he was “not too optimistic” about finding consensus.

The government-forming crisis is now inextricably bound up with a vote next month by both houses of parliament and regional representatives to replace Napolitano by May 15.

Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party fears that if no agreement is reached on a government then Bersani could ally with Grillo to appoint a new president hostile to the media magnate, who is seeking immunity from a string of legal cases.

The 76-year-old billionaire is facing an imminent verdict in a trial for paying for sex with an underage prostitute as well as in his appeal against a four-year tax fraud sentence and has large business interests to protect.

Respected political commentator Massimo Franco said fears over the presidential election would explain Berlusconi’s pressure for the working groups to finish quickly.

“Above all he suspects a successive phase marked by a Quirinale (presidential palace) hostile to the PDL,” Franco wrote in a column in Corriere della Sera .

Napolitano, who cannot call elections in the final months of his presidency, may also be trying to draw things out so that the key decisions are taken by his successor, insiders say.

Details of what the two commissions will propose have not been announced, but they are also likely to include cutting the cost of the bloated political system and reforms to unblock Italy’s notoriously stagnant growth.

The key reform is changing the much maligned electoral law which is a major cause of the current impasse, but the politicians failed to agree on new rules despite repeated promises during the outgoing technocrat government of Mario Monti.

Another election with the same law could produce a similar impasse, experts say, but such a reform of the rules would be improbable by June.

One of the members of Napolitano’s commissions, center-left Senator Filippo Bubbico, said they would also discuss easing painful tax hikes imposed by the outgoing technocrat government of Mario Monti. “We will work fast,” he promised.

Anger over the economic pain imposed by Monti, particularly a hated housing tax, pushed many voters to support Grillo in the election, where his group won an unprecedented 25 percent.

Source: Reuters


Berlusconi offer fails to end Italy’s political stalemate

Silvio Berlusconi repeated a demand on Monday to be included in any new Italian government, but there was no sign his center-left rival would renege on a promise not to ally with the tycoon as a way out of political stalemate.

Pier Luigi Bersani – asked by the president to try to form a coalition after a February election that gave him a majority in the lower house but not in the Senate – has ruled out an alliance with the media baron’s People of Freedom (PDL).

But Bersani’s Democratic Party (PD) has few other options, leaving the euro zone’s third biggest economy in a political limbo that is a danger for the whole currency bloc, badly shaken by near melt-down in Cyprus.

Berlusconi said the PD should allow his party to choose a successor to 87-year-old President Giorgio Napolitano, a left-winger whose term ends on May 15 – another aspect of Berlusconi’s offer which is unappealing to Bersani.

“The line is clear, either the PD changes its ideas and makes itself available for a government with the PDL to get the economy moving again and declares it is prepared to elect a moderate to the presidency or we go back and vote,” Berlusconi said in an interview with his own Canale 5 television.

Bersani’s overtures to the third biggest group in parliament – the populist 5-Star – have been rejected. The movement led by ex-comic Beppe Grillo says it will have nothing to do with Italy’s mainstream parties, all of which it views as corrupt.

Despite that, the PD said Berlusconi’s offer remained unappealing.

“Our experience is a negative one for a very simple reason. What we’ve seen unfortunately is that, in the end, Berlusconi thinks only of his own interests,” PD deputy leader Enrico Letta told SkyTG24 television.

“Honestly, the idea that in a day after the election you can cancel out everything which has gone on in these past 20 years, we all know it’s just propaganda,” he said.


If he cannot form a coalition, Napolitano may ask a respected figure from outside the main party system to try to form a broad-based government. The other alternative is a return to the polls.

Bersani expressed the urgency of Italy’s dilemma.

“The situation is dramatic. We need a government. In fact we need a government capable of performing miracles,” he told reporters at parliament where he was meeting union leaders, seeking support for modest economic reforms.

European partners and international investors are watching the stalemate closely although so far there has been no sign of the panic that gripped markets in 2011 when Berlusconi resigned as prime minister amid a debt crisis.

On Monday, the main indicator of investor confidence, the difference between yields on 10 year Italian government bonds and their more trusted German counterparts, narrowed after the EU reached a deal over the banking crisis in Cyprus.

An auction of two-year zero-coupon bonds saw the cost of borrowing rise slightly but the Treasury sold almost all of its maximum target of 4 billion euros.

However, broader problems remain in an Italy stuck in recession, with unemployment – especially among the young – at record levels, and a 2-trillion-euro public debt vulnerable to a change of mood on the bond markets.

“We need a government to show some signs of change given the emergency that we face and to start turning the trend around,” said Susanna Camusso, head of the CGIL union after meeting Bersani.

Source: Reuters


Italy’s Monti opens election campaign with tax pledge

The Italian caretaker Prime Minister, Mario Monti, has promised to cut labour taxes in an interview seen as the launch of his election campaign.

Mr Monti, who leads a centrist coalition while not standing as a candidate himself, also attacked conservative rival Silvio Berlusconi.

In office he vowed to restore market confidence in Italy’s finances.

Wednesday saw him achieve his aim of halving the difference between Italy’s and Germany’s bond yields.

These indicate a country’s cost of borrowing and reflect how nervous investors feel about lending to them. Germany is used as a benchmark as it is considered the safest bet in the eurozone.

The difference between Italy and Germany’s yields dipped below 2.87 percentage points on Wednesday.

When Mr Monti took office as head of a technocratic government in November 2011, the spread had stood at 5.74 percentage points.

Mr Monti’s centrist allies are in a three-way race with Mr Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party on the right and the Democratic Party on the left.

‘No comment’

Speaking on radio, Mr Monti pledged to take measures to redistribute wealth in the country.

“We need to reduce taxes on the labour force, both on workers and companies, by cutting spending,” he said.

He defended his administration’s record, saying that the “light at the end of the tunnel” was “much nearer”.

Since withdrawing his party’s support for the government in December, Mr Berlusconi has repeatedly launched attacks against the former European commissioner.

“Berlusconi has made improper attacks against me – on areas like family values,” Mr Monti said on Wednesday.

“I think I need make no further comment,” he added, in an apparent reference to the string of sex scandals involving the veteran billionaire politician.

Mr Monti, a former economics professor, was chosen to impose financial rigour on the economy, after Mr Berlusconi quit the prime minister’s job.

In power, Mr Monti made some progress early on, including raising the retirement age and structural reforms.

However ordinary Italians have been hard hit by the combination of tax rises and spending cuts he imposed to repair Italy’s public finances.

Italians are due to go to the polls over the weekend of 24-25 February.

Source: BBC


Italy Prime Minister Monti expected to resign on Friday

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti will hand in his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano after parliament approves the 2013 budget later on Friday, political and government sources said.

Monti, who this month lost the support of the center-right People of Freedom (PDL) party which had backed his technocrat government in parliament, had already announced he would stand down as soon as the budget was passed.

He is due to hold a news conference on Sunday at which he is expected to say whether he intends to stand as a candidate in the election, likely to be held on February 24.

Source: Reuters