Italy’s Left Rebels Against Leader in Presidential Vote

Pier Luigi Bersani’s lawmakers vote down his nominee for president.

Changing of the guards outside the presidential palace in Rome, Italy, February 19, 2008
Changing of the guards outside the presidential palace in Rome, Italy, February 19, 2008 (Gustav Bergman)

Lawmakers from Italy’s majority party voted down their leader’s nominee for president on Thursday. Former Senate speaker Franco Marini fell short of the required two-thirds majority in the first voting round. In the second, he won no votes when both left- and right-wing members cast blank ballots.

The failed election is an embarrassment for the left’s leader and prime ministerial candidate Pier Luigi Bersani who has failed to form a government after winning a majority for his party in the lower chamber of parliament but not the Senate where former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing bloc holds nearly as many seats.

Further complicating the presidential election is the intransigence of the Five Star Movement, an upstart anti-establishment party led by former comic Beppe Grillo that won almost a sixth of the Senate seats in February’s election. Some of Bersani’s members voted for its preferred candidate instead, leftist Stefano Rodotà.

Bersani split his party by nominating Marini in a deal with Berlusconi’s conservatives. The former has rejected demands from within his own party as well as its labor union allies to form a grand coalition with the right, despite Berlusconi’s professed preference for it over reelections. But he might seek its support for a minority government.

Matteo Renzi, the popular mayor of Florence who challenged Bersani for the party leadership in a primary election last year, said ahead of the parliamentary vote, “Voting for Franco Marini today would be to do a disservice to the country.” He described the octogenarian former Christian Democrat as a “candidate from the last century” who lacked international stature.

The Italian president has a mostly ceremonial function but also the power to dissolve parliament and call new elections. That may be necessary to break the political deadlock.

If Bersani fails to get a president elected and form a government, his party might replace him with Renzi in reelections. 28 percent of Italians support him for the prime ministership, an SWG survey showed, while only 14 percent back Bersani.

Renzi 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.

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