Squabbling parties faced with election of president

No candidates yet named ahead of April 18 voting start

Squabbling parties faced with election of president

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, April 3 - Italy's squabbling parties have not been able to agree on anything since February's inconclusive general election, but they have one unavoidable choice awaiting them soon - the election of a new president. The first session to elect a successor to Giorgio Napolitano will be on April 18, the House said Wednesday. Napolitano's seven-year term ends on May 15 and parties are wrangling about a successor, with no agreement in sight. Napolitano has been struggling to break Italy's post-election stalemate after the February 24-25 elections produced a hung parliament. The three leading forces - Pier Luigi Bersani's Democratic Party (PD), Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party and Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) - are sticking to mutually incompatible stances. Bersani, whose coalition got a majority in the House but not the Senate, tried to rally support for a government by proposing policies compatible with M5S's platform but had to put the ball back in Napolitano's court. The president appointed 10 'wise men' to propose policies to muster a consensus but even the experts, who will produce their platform in just over a week, are pessimistic about their task. The president is expected to hold fresh consultations after the wise men propose electoral reform and moves to lift Italy out of recession. Bersani is still saying his 'government of change' is the only way forward but Berlusconi wants a grand coalition Bersani has ruled out and Grillo will not talk to either. Some observers think new elections are on the horizon but Napolitano cannot dissolve parliament because of Constitutional curbs on a president's powers in the last six months of his term. So that job will fall to Napolitano's successor. Among the names touted by the media, but not by parties, have been ex-premiers Romano Prodi and Giuliano Amato. But both are from the centre left and would be unacceptable to Berlusconi who has already accused the PD of trying to "occupy" top institutional posts after electing parliament's two Speakers. Pundits say ex-Senate Speaker Franco Marino, a more moderate centre-left figure, would be more acceptable to Berlusconi, who has floated his long-time advisor and institutional fixer Gianni Letta. Both Letta and Berlusconi himself, whose candidacy has been advanced by the PdL, are unacceptable to the PD. M5S has opened an online poll to tout candidates and has already suggested humanitarian war-zone doctor Gino Strada. Foreign bookies on Wednesday said Prodi and Letta were running almost neck and neck in the 'race' for election to Italy's highest office. Bet2875 put the odds of Prodi becoming president at 1.65 against 1.85 for his centre-right 'rival' Letta. Other names considered by the bookies were former centre-left premier Massimo d'Alema at 2.00, Marini at 2.45 and current Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso at 6.00. Constitutional lawyer Stefano Rodota' came in at 6.50, former House Speaker Luciano Violante at 7.00, veteran Radical politician and former foreign trade minister Emma Bonino at 7.30 and ex-premier Giuliano Amato at 8.00. Voting for the president will be by the 945 members of the two houses of parliament plus regional representatives, making a total of 1007. A two-thirds majority is needed for the first three votes, and then a simple majority. Presidents, who represent national unity and have the power to help governments form and vet laws, are usually expected to be voted by a broad majority. Berlusconi said Wednesday he would make a fresh push for a cross-party elections or else a snap election, while Florence's centre-left mayor, Matteo Renzi, seen as a future PD leader, said Italy was "wasting time". "We are going through a political-institutional period in which time is being wasted, while the world is asking us to run twice as fast" said Renzi, who is expected to challenge Bersani if Italy returns to the polls later this year after losing a December primary to the PD head. "A political world that cannot run produces solutions that it cannot put into practice," added Renzi, who was sceptical from the start about Bersani's bid to reach out to the M5S. "Time is up, lots of companies are on the verge of going bust. "What's needed is political credibility and responses on the issues of work or we risk losing the road to get back home".

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