Italy’s Bersani Resigns After Failed Presidential Elections

The left-wing leader says he will step down once a new president is elected.

Pier Luigi Bersani addresses a conference of the Partito Democratico in Varese, Italy, October 9, 2010
Pier Luigi Bersani addresses a conference of the Partito Democratico in Varese, Italy, October 9, 2010 (Francesca Minonne)

Italy’s left-wing leader Pier Luigi Bersani announced on Friday that he will resign after lawmakers from his own party voted down the two 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 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 regional delegates and sparked the fury of rightwingers whose leader, Silvio Berlusconi, was twice defeated by Prodi in national elections.

Conservatives further accused Bersani of breaking a pact to nominate a candidate who would be acceptable to them. While the left’s leader had ruled out forming a “grand coalition” with Berlusconi, even after being urged to by his labor union allies and members of his own party, he might have sought its support for a minority government.

After defeating Prodi’s candidacy, which prompted the elder statesman to withdraw his nomination, leaders of Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà argued that the need for reelections had increased if they were to form a new government.

There cannot be new elections, however, before a successor to incumbent president Giorgio Napolitano is found. His term expires next month.

The Italian president has a mostly ceremonial function but the power to dissolve parliament and thus trigger new elections.

Reelections might have been avoided if Bersani had stepped down immediately, allowing a centrist like Florence mayor Matteo Renzi to take over from the former industry minister. Renzi challenged Bersani to the party leadership in a primary election 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 conservative voters.

Bersani, however, said he will 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 legislative elections are called, Renzi does seem the most likely candidate to succeed Bersani and become the left’s prime ministerial candidate. A recent SWG survey showed that 28 percent of Italians support him for position compared to 14 percent for Bersani and 10 for Berlusconi.

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