Rome

Bersani says wary about Berlusconi's 'guises'

Leaders meet to discuss next president

Bersani says wary about Berlusconi's 'guises'

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, April 9 - Centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani geared for his post-election meeting with centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi saying he was all too aware of the various "guises" the three-time premier has adopted over the years. Bersani, head of the Democratic Party (PD) which topped the February 24-25 polls a shade ahead of Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL)-led alliance, told reporters he would take the media-magnate-turned-politician's allegedly chameleon-like nature into account when they discussed issues including Italy's next president. The meeting is also supposed to address Berlusconi's long-standing call for a left-right coalition to overcome the stalemate caused by comedian Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) holding the balance of power in a hung parliament. But Bersani has consistently resisted such overtures before and is expected to instead push for a minority 'targeted government' to try to inject some life into a flatlining economy and pass key reforms such as changing Italy's much-criticised electoral law so it produces a clear winner next time round. Bersani has hinted in the past that agreement might be achieved on two levels - one for the so-called 'government of change' whose reform agenda might also appeal to the icily standoffish M5S, and the other for a 'convention' on institutional reform. President Giorgio Napolitano, whose terms ends May 15, has appointed 10 'wise men' to frame possible consensus policy proposals but even they have been quoted as being pessimistic about galvanising the parties into accord. A few hours ahead of his meeting with Berlusconi, at which sources said there might be some "convergence" around the name of a new president, Bersani again ruled out forming a grand coalition with the PdL. Bersani's refusal to respond to Berlusconi's calls for him to consider a pact with the PdL to end the political deadlock has been criticised by many within his own party, including rising star Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence, who said parties were "wasting time" while Italy sank ever deeper into the economic and social mire. And on Monday Napolitano, suggested the parties should have the "courage" to reach an agreement for the good of a country that faces huge economic challenges and is in the middle of its biggest recession for 20 years. The outgoing head of state recalled the spirit of national unity between old foes Christian Democrats and Communists which led to the famous "historic compromise" of 1976. But Bersani defended his position, saying the experience of outgoing Premier Mario Monti's emergency technocrat administration, which both the PD and the PdL supported in parliament, showed a grand coalition would not work. "I experienced a broad coalition in the final stages of the Monti government," Bersani, who failed in his bid to win support from M5S and had to hand the ball back to Napolitano, told state broadcaster Rai. "We hung in there and Berlusconi took off (and withdrew his support) three months before (the end of its term in December). When I meet him, I'll say: I know you, you're in another of your guises. We've already been there". Bersani added that the talks with Berlusconi will regard "the method to elect the president" when a joint session of parliament plus regional representatives, - 1007 'grand electors' in all - start voting on April 18. A two-thirds majority is required for the first three votes but thenceforth a simple majority will suffice. But presidents, being incarnations of national unity, are usually expected to garner broad cross-party support. Bersani later hinted he was open to the possibility of a woman being elected to succeed Napolitano. In comments made to the PD caucus in the House, Bersani said that in choosing a new president for the country, it was important to "keep gender equality in mind". In Italy, the president - a mostly ceremonial position, but which has key constitutional powers, including appointing governments and calling elections - is elected by parliament. Among the names making the rounds as potential replacements for Napolitano are those of former centre-left leader and ex-premier Romano Prodi, as well as former European commissioner Emma Bonino. A leading member of the small Radical party that promotes economic and social liberalism and champions human-rights issues, Bonino has won support from figures on both the left and right of Italy's political spectrum. She gained a good international reputation for her human rights work while she was European commissioner for health and consumer protection from 1995 to 1999, a role that also included overseeing the EC's department for overseas aid and civil protection. Bonino has so far been low down in the bookies' reckonings for the post, but on Tuesday she had risen a bit. Prodi was still the top tip, despite declared opposition from the PdL, quoted at 1.65 to 1 by Bet2875. Berlusconi's long-time right-hand man Gianni Letta was second at 1.85 despite strong PD opposition and former PD leader and ex-premier Massimo D'Alema was a 2-to-1 tip, Agipronews reported. D'Alema has been cited as acceptable by Berlusconi but he does not enjoy wide popularity among centre-left rank and file. Bonino receovered a couple of percentage points to 2.1, followed closely by another former centre-left premier Berlusconi has said he might accept, Giuliano Amato, at 2.2. Ex-Senate Speaker Franco Marino, a centre-lefter with broader appeal, was on 2.45 to 1.

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