May 10, 2006

Prodi’s candidate elected Italian president

By Robin Pomeroy

ROME (Reuters) - Italy elected a new president on
Wednesday, ending a lengthy period of political limbo and
opening the way for Romano Prodi to become prime minister more
than a month after beating Silvio Berlusconi at the polls.

Prodi's candidate, Giorgio Napolitano, an ex-communist
80-year-old life senator, secured 543 votes from the "grand
electors" -- parliamentarians and regional representatives --
38 more than the absolute majority needed.

The result is an important victory for Prodi who cannot
take office until the new president is in place and gives him a
mandate to form a government.

After the vote, Prodi told reporters he expected to be able
to swear in his new government by next Wednesday -- after
Napolitano takes over as head of state from outgoing President
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

The result was the latest blow for outgoing Prime Minister
Berlusconi who had refused to back Napolitano, saying his
voters would not understand if his bloc backed a former

But Prodi's coalition pushed their candidate through
against the wishes of the opposition after three initial rounds
of voting -- during which a two-thirds majority was needed --
resulted in political stalemate.

Berlusconi grudgingly acknowledged Napolitano's election.
"We are still convinced that half of the country has been
excluded," he said. "This is not the will of the people but we
wish him well and good work.


Napolitano's victory will have come as a huge relief for
Prodi as it showed he does have the political stature to rally
his troops to defeat Berlusconi who remains a strong force as
head of the single biggest party in parliament.

But his inability to get his candidate elected in the early
rounds has highlighted the problems he may face in pushing
through his policy agenda with only a wafer-thin majority made
up of diverse parties ranging from the center to the hard left.

Napolitano, a former house speaker and interior minister
who was appointed to the rare honorary position of senator for
life last year, is expected to be sworn in next Monday as
Italy's 11th post-World War Two head of state.

The post of president is largely ceremonial but the head of
state has the power to name the prime minister, dissolve
parliament and send legislation back to parliament.