Gridlock rules as parliament opens

Bersani buys time to negotiate with blank speaker ballots

Gridlock rules as parliament opens

(By Christopher Livesay) Rome, March 15 - The 17th legislature of the Italian Republic opened Friday amid political deadlock as the country's three biggest parties failed to agree on candidates for Speakers or anything else. Both the House and the Senate are called on to elect a Speaker during their first session. But votes in both cases were inconclusive as the center-left Democratic Party (PD) led a drive to submit blank ballots in the hope of buying more time for negotiations. In the Senate, 246 senators out of 315 did not support candidates, while 459 out of 630 in the House did the same, forcing new rounds of voting that were also inconclusive later in the day. Pier Luigi Bersani, the head of the PD, said his party would submit blank votes in order to have more time to reach common ground with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) of comedian Beppe Grillo, whose stunning performance in February elections wrested enough support from the center left in the Senate to create gridlock in the first session of parliament Friday. The center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi also performed surprisingly well in elections, and has said it too would submit blank ballots for speakers. Grillo, whose euro-skeptic, anti-tax and largely populist platform has vaulted his party to the top of current opinion polls, has said he wants to "open the parliament like a can of tuna". His supporters in the Senate Friday placed a can-opener on the dais. Since elections, PD representatives have been trying to forge an agreement with the M5S, which took a total of 162 seats in parliament, but so far talks have have yielded little. On Friday Grillo accused Italy's political parties of wrecking the country in an interview with German TV. "Economically and morally Italy is a pile of rubble," the gadfly comedian told Germany's principal state channel ARD. "Italians turned their backs on political parties because they have destroyed and drained our country". "The European dream will dissolve because the economy is not moving any more". So far M5S has ruled out any form of alliance with the centre-left coalition led by Bersani, which polled most votes in the February elections but failed to win a working majority in both houses of parliament, leading to the current political logjam. Many have cited austerity constraints imposed on Italians as a prime reason behind Grillo's success at the polls. French President Francois Hollande said at the European Union summit on Friday that the bloc had to learn the lesson from Italy's post-election impasse and be more flexible with its demands for fiscal consolidation. His remarks were echoed by the ex-Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker who said that results from the Italian elections demonstrate a "clear rejection of EU policy" and "a massive rejection of the political class in Italy by Italians who believe in people who pretend to love them but instead are simply cunning".

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