Napolitano chides parties as second stint starts

'Inability to reform electoral law unforgivable' says president

Napolitano chides parties as second stint starts

Rome, April 22 - Giorgio Napolitano was on Monday sworn in for his second straight stint as Italian president after being re-elected amid political chaos. The widely respected Napolitano, 87, the first ex-Communist head of State, was voted in Saturday after two candidates from the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) flopped in a dramatic split. Entering his second term, the president is once again faced with a list of problems he expected to pass on to a successor. At the top is a near three-way tie after elections in late February that produced no clear winner and a hung parliament, now in its 55th day without a government. At his swearing-in before that parliament Monday, Napolitano called the MPs' inability to reform the electoral law "unforgivable". "Not reforming that law has produced a vexing race to conquer, on the razor's edge, an abnormal prize, the winner of which was ultimately unable to govern". In the run-up to Italian general elections, Napolitano repeatedly implored MPs to reform the electoral law that ultimately led to the current gridlock. Fixing it now is expected to be a top priority in working with parliamentarians to forge what will likely be a government of national unity. But first, Napolitano said that the leaders of Italy's main political parties must find a way to work together. In response, echoing the deep divisions between the parties, the troubled center-left Democratic Party (PD) sat in silence while the center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi applauded with enthusiasm. The reactions broadly reflected the current state of both parties - the first, whose leader Pier Luigi Bersani announced he would resign Friday, is showing signs of unraveling, while the second has watched its poll numbers creep upward. Berlusconi was effusive. "Napolitano's words were the most exemplary and extraordinary that I have ever heard in 20 years," he said. Bersani was more reserved: "Napolitano said what he had to say...(with) exceptional efficacy". Second on Napolitano's list of daunting challenges is the Italian economy, which after more than a year of tough austerity measures ushered in by the technocratic government of outgoing Premier Mario Monti is entering the deepest recession in two decades. Despite austerity opposition from euro-skeptics, namely the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo, Napolitano stressed in his address the importance of living up to European Union commitments. The challenges brought forth by the economic crisis are "more arduous and deeper than ever" he said. "The outcome is uncertain. "We must promote a united Europe, helping to define and respect the constraints of financial and monetary stability". Napolitano also went on to praise some of his fiercest opponents. "I appreciate the commitment with which the M5S showed a willingness to engage in the House and Senate, gaining the weight and influence they deserve," Napolitano said. Over the weekend, Grillo and M5S members continued to vehemently protest his re-election over who they consider to be a prime example of the old political class holding the country back. With such resistance in mind, Napolitano plans to begin consultations immediately with leaders of the Senate and House to discuss the formation of the next government, his office announced Monday. The octogenarian president, who says he will stay in office "as long has his strength allows", is meeting with both Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso and House Speaker Laura Boldrini on Tuesday.

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