Giorgio Napolitano has won a second term as president, the first time an Italian head of state has done so. His re-election comes after two other candidates had failed to win enough votes to succeed the incumbent.
After five rounds of inconclusive voting and two aborted candidacies, the 87-year-old Napolitano stepped in to help end Italy's political impasse on Saturday, overwhelmingly winning a second term as president. His re-election could help pave the way toward brokering a coalition government or calling new elections.
Although Napolitano had originally planned to retire after his term ended in May due to his advanced age, he relented after Pier Luigi Bersani of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) and conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi asked him to stay on for another term. Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, a centrist, had also petitioned Napolitano to stay on as head of state.
"We must all consider, as I have tried to in these hours, the difficult situation of the country and the problems of Italy and the Italians, as well as the image and international role of our country," he said.
'A coup is taking place'
More than 1,000 national and regional lawmakers had convened to elect the next Italian president, with the overwhelming majority of them ultimately backing Napolitano. Only the Five Star Movement (M5S), the Left Ecology Freedom party, and the Brothers of Italy refused to support the incumbent.
Comedian-turned-politician and M5S leader Beppe Grillo called for protests, labeling Napolitano's re-election a coup. M5S is an up-and-coming anti-establishment party, which has become the third-strongest political force in Italy's parliament.
"A coup is taking place," Grillo wrote on his blog. "For the sake of stopping change, they are ready to do anything."
He then called for protests, saying that the traditional parties were planning a grand coalition that would "muzzle" the judiciary.
"There must be millions of us," Grillo wrote. "Don't leave me alone or with just a handful of people. We either make democracy here or we die as a country."
Napolitano’s re-election came after Bersani's PD, the largest single political bloc in Italy's parliament, twice failed to elect its candidate of choice. The PD first joined forces with Berlusconi's conservative bloc to back Franco Marini, a former Senate speaker. Many members of the PD, however, refused to cooperate with Berlusconi, ultimately sinking Marini's candidacy.
The PD then supported Romano Prodi, a former prime minister and European Commission president, but some 101 center-left politicians refused to support him in the end. After the presidential election debacle, PD leader Bersani said he would step down once a new head of state had been selected.
Italy has been in a state of political limbo since February's general elections, which seated a hung parliament. Although the center-left coalition led by the PD won the most votes, they did not get enough seats to form a government on their own. The PD has refused to form a coalition with the second largest political force, Berlusconi's conservative bloc. And M5S has rejected forming a coalition with any of the major parties.
Although the Italian presidency is largely a ceremonial position, the head of state has important powers following an election. The president plays a key role as an intermediary between the parties, helping to broker coalition governments. And only the president can nominate a prime minister and approve his cabinet.
“A new president will not mean that a new government will follow automatically, even less that the government will be effective,” James Walston, a politics professor at American University of Rome, told the news agency DPA. “But without a president, there can be no government.”
slk/tm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)