May 5, 2006

Berlusconi rejects Prodi’s man for Italy president

By Robin Pomeroy

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi rejected the incoming government's preferred
presidential candidate on Friday, dashing hopes for a quick
appointment to the country's top job.

Romano Prodi, who narrowly beat Berlusconi's centre-right
government in last month's general election, wanted Massimo
D'Alema, chairman of the biggest party in his coalition, the
Democrats of the Left, to become head of state.

With a slim parliamentary majority, Prodi may find it
difficult to get approval for his candidate without support
from the opposition. He met Berlusconi on Thursday aiming to
smooth their prickly relationship and find a deal.

But a day after the hour-long meeting which Italian
newspapers described as tense, Berlusconi said he would not
support D'Alema, a former prime minister.

"When you talk about the president of the republic, it has
to be someone who is a guarantor of the constitution, the flag
and unity of Italy," he told reporters in Naples.

"It must be someone who can give to all sides guarantees of
an absolute, total impartiality," he said.

The media tycoon, who refused to concede defeat for more
than three weeks after the election, said D'Alema's history in
the Italian Communist Party (PCI) ruled him out of the post.

"When it was suggested they change the hammer and sickle
symbol, he said publicly: 'we shouldn't trouble ourselves with
getting rid of it because it's a symbol -- which is a symbol of
terror and death -- that remains close to our hearts'," he

The PCI transformed itself into the Democrats of the Left
in the early 1990s, dropping the communist brand, but
Berlusconi has consistently railed against communists and
portrayed himself as the defender of Italy against the hard


Italy's parliament is due to convene on Monday to elect a
successor to 85-year-old President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi whose
term ends this month.

Although it is a largely titular position, the appointment
of a president is of heightened significance this time because
Prodi cannot take his centre-left bloc into government before
the new head of state is in office and gives him a mandate.

The president has the power to nominate the prime minister
and dissolve parliament, prerogatives that could be crucial as
Prodi prepares to govern with his wafer-thin majority.

Italian newspapers reported that Berlusconi told Prodi he
wanted a range of candidates for parliament to choose from,
instead of a single person to be rubber-stamped by the

Prodi said his coalition had not officially decided on a
candidate but that he hoped the wide swathe of parties would
come up with a name at a meeting later on Friday. "We'll see
today around 4.30 (1430 GMT)," he said.

Prodi's coalition could use its slim majority to push its
preferred candidate through the assembly, but probably not
without several bruising rounds of votes.

Such a move would also be considered a provocation by
centre-right politicians and voters who return to the polls at
the end of the month in local elections which will be an early
test of Prodi's popularity.

A two-thirds majority is required to elect a president in
the first three rounds of voting, and a simple majority after
that. It took 13 days to elect Ciampi's predecessor in 1992.

Other possible presidential candidates include former prime
minister Giuliano Amato, former European Commissioner Mario
Monti and Berlusconi's close aide Gianni Letta.