Rome

Berlusconi says next president could be centre-left

'Ready to discuss it' with Bersani, ex-premier says

Berlusconi says next president could be centre-left

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, April 12 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi has said he might be willing to consider backing a candidate from the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) for president if it drops its refusal to form a broad government coalition with his People of Freedom (PdL) party. Italy has been in a state of political deadlock since February's inconclusive general election because centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani has rejected the PdL's calls for it to form a grand coalition. Bersani, whose alliance finished ahead of Berlusconi's coalition in the vote but did not win a working majority in the Senate, failed in a bid to win support from the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) that holds the balance of power in parliament. As well as working out a way to break the impasse, the parties must also choose a successor to President Giorgio Napolitano, whose seven-year term ends next month. "We are certainly ready to discuss it," Berlusconi said in an interview published in Friday's edition of Rome-based daily La Repubblica when asked about the possibility of a PD member being the next president. "When we spoke to the (PD) secretary (Bersani this week), we did not name any names. "But if we agree on a road for the Quirinale (presidential palace), on the other hand we also have to find a agreement for a broad coalition executive with ministers chosen together. Otherwise nothing". Bersani has repeatedly said he is willing to talk to the PdL and the other parties to try to reach a consensus candidate to be Napolitano's successor, while stressing the negotiations should remain separate from the issue of forming a new executive. On Thursday Bersani scoffed at talk he was among the possible candidates to replace Napolitano. "The only hills I have in mind are those in the province of Piacenza," said Bersani in reference to his native Emilia Romagna. The seat of the president of the republic on the Quirinale hill in Rome is commonly referred to simply as 'Il Colle', meaning 'The Hill'. Names for a future president touted on left and right include former centre-left premier Romani Prodi, Berlusconi aide Gianni Letta and Radical Party heavyweight Emma Bonino - who topped a poll Friday - but no consensus candidates have yet to emerge. Italian media have said two figures on the centre left, ex-premier Giuliano Amato and ex-Senate Speaker Franco Marini, are more palatable for the centre right. Amato was a long-time economic advisor and highly regarded aide to late Socialist premier Bettino Craxi, a close friend of Berlusconi's who protected his media empire. The controversial Craxi bestrode the Italian political landscape in the 1980s despite the dominance of the Christian Democrats before becoming the chief culprit in the Bribesville scandals that brought the establishment parties crashing down in the early 1990s. Craxi eventually fled from an arrest warrant to his Tunisian villa and died there in self-imposed exile, amid belated calls for a pardon, in 2000. Marini is seen as being more acceptable to the centre right because he comes from the Catholic or Christian-Socialist wing of the PD, and is a former Christian Democrat. Some would like to see Napolitano serve a second term in office but the incumbent president has repeatedly ruled out this possibility. Many observers expect the next president to call fresh elections unless the PD and PdL can come to an accommodation over the government. Media pundits say the two parties want a government capable of lasting long enough to let M5S leader Beppe Grillo's star wane. Grillo, on the other hand, who has refused to do deals with the PD or PdL, is banking on public perceptions of their alleged "backroom deal" boosting the M5S past the established parties. A joint parliamentary session to elect the president will start on April 18, also including three representatives from most of Italy's 20 regions, making a total of 58. With 945 parliamentarians and four Life Senators, the total of grand electors is 1007. A two-thirds majority is needed in the first three ballots, and then a simple majority is enough. Tensions within the PD rose this week when Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, a rising force in the PD, was not named as one of the party's two Tuscan 'grand electors'. In the La Repubblica interview Friday, Berlusconi added that he would not seek an "amnesty" that would free him from legal problems. These include a four-year prison term he is appealing for fraud at his media empire and a trial into allegations he paid for sex with an underage prostitute. He said he did not need any such measure as he was confident of acquittal on all counts even if the cases reach the supreme court.

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