Italy’s left-wing leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, is stepping down after lawmakers from his own party voted down the men he had nominated for the presidency.
Bersani, who won a majority for his party in the lower chamber of parliament in February’s election but not in the Senate, where conservatives occupy nearly as many seats, did get right-wing support for his first presidential candidate, the former Senate speaker Franco Marini, but fell short of the required two-thirds majority when some of his own members joined the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in backing leftist Stefano Rodotà instead.
Bersani’s second choice, former European Commission president Romano Prodi, also failed to win the unanimous backing of left-wing parliamentarians and infuriated right-wing leader Silvio Berlusconi, who was twice defeated by Prodi in national elections.
Conservatives accused Bersani of breaking his promise to nominate a candidate who would be acceptable to them.
Although the left-wing leader has ruled out forming a “grand coalition” with Berlusconi’s party — despite being urged to do so by his allies in the labor movement and members of his own party — he may have needed its support to lead a minority government.
After defeating Prodi’s candidacy, which prompted the elder statesman to withdraw his nomination, leaders of Berlusconi’s party argued that the need for reelections had increased.
There cannot be new elections, however, before a successor to incumbent president Giorgio Napolitano is found. His term expires next month.
The Italian presidency is mostly ceremonial but has the power to dissolve parliament and thus trigger elections.
Opportunity for Renzi
Reelections might have been avoided if Bersani had stepped down immediately, allowing a centrist like Florence mayor Matteo Renzi to take over.
Renzi challenged Bersani to the party leadership in a primary last year and got 40 percent of the votes. After the party failed to win a Senate majority in February, he lamented that it had been unwilling to reach out to center-right voters.
Bersani, however, said he would not step down before a new president is elected while Renzi, though not adamantly opposed to a centrist coalition, said earlier this month that he would welcome a return to the polls.
“Every day we wait is a day wasted for Italy,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
If new elections are called, Renzi does seem the most likely candidate to succeed Bersani. A recent SWG survey showed that 28 percent of Italians support him for the prime ministership against 14 percent for Bersani and 10 for Berlusconi.