May 8, 2006

Italian parliament to start vote for president

By Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) - Italian parliamentarians start voting for
a head of state on Monday after incoming Prime Minister Romano
Prodi's centre-left proposed a new candidate to try to avoid a
lengthy battle with the outgoing centre-right.

Prodi, whose coalition won last month's election by a slim
margin, will not be able to form his government before the
election of the new president, who will formally give him the

Prodi on Sunday put forward 80-year-old Giorgio Napolitano
as a compromise candidate. Outgoing Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi turned down Prodi's first proposal, Massimo D'Alema,
a former prime minister who is chairman of the Democrats of the
Left (DS).

However, Berlusconi has given no indication that he is any
more willing to back Napolitano, who is also from the DS and
was not among a list of candidates proposed to Prodi as

The Northern League, one of Berlusconi's coalition
partners, said the alliance would not support Napolitano who,
like D'Alema, is a former communist.

"I don't see any possibility that the centre-right will
unite behind Napolitano ... what difference is there between
Massimo D'Alema and Napolitano?," said Northern League member
and Welfare Minister Roberto Maroni.

The first round of voting begins at 1400 GMT but many
analysts believe no winner will emerge before Wednesday's
fourth ballot, when the number of votes needed falls from a
two-thirds majority of the electors to an absolute majority.

The 1,010 "grand electors," made up of lawmakers and
regional representatives, will choose a successor to President
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, whose 7-year term is about to expire. It
took 13 days to elect Ciampi's predecessor in 1992.


Some analysts have suggested that presenting Napolitano, a
former lower house speaker and interior minister, is a tactical
move by the centre-left, which will revert to supporting
D'Alema if Napolitano does not get broad backing.

Francesco Rutelli, leader of the centrist Daisy party,
denied this and appealed to the centre-right to back the life
senator who Prodi hopes will be seen as a less divisive,
partisan figure.

"We trust he (Napolitano) can be elected today," Rutelli
said. "He is an authoritative figure in the Democrats of the
Left (DS), but even more he is a man of the institutions, able
to ensure that the president will represent everyone."

The president is traditionally meant to be a widely
respected figure above party politics.

Berlusconi had rejected D'Alema outright, saying an
ex-communist for president would be an "indecent proposal."

Prodi is under pressure from the DS to propose one of their
own for the job because the largest party in his coalition
failed to win the speakership of either house of parliament and
feels it is due a prestigious post.

While Prodi could use his slim majority to push though his
own candidate, that would increase the bitterness between the
two camps and could make it harder for him to carry through his
reform policies.

Napolitano's name emerged after a day of frantic
negotiations between the two sides.

During a meeting with centre-left leaders, Berlusconi's
allies put forward four names, none of them from the DS. They
included former prime ministers Giuliano Amato and Lamberto
Dini, as well as former European Commissioner Mario Monti.

(Additional reporting by Philip Pullella, Paolo Biondi and
Stefano Bernabei)