May 8, 2006

Italy’s Prodi seeks accord to elect president

By Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's incoming Prime Minister Romano
Prodi urged broad support for his compromise candidate for
president shortly before voting began in parliament on Monday,
but his center-right opponents gave no sign of agreeing.

Prodi, whose center-left coalition won last month's
election by a slim margin, will not be able to form his
government before the election of the new head of state, who
will formally give him the mandate.

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

"He (Napolitano) is a serious, meditated choice who can
really get the support of the whole of parliament right away,"
Prodi told reporters.

But the call appeared to fall on deaf ears in the
Berlusconi camp, suggesting the election of the president could
turn into a bruising battle and continue to sour the political
climate after the most divisive election campaign in decades.

The Northern League, one of Berlusconi's coalition
partners, said the alliance would not support Napolitano who,
like D'Alema, is from the DS, descendant of the Italian
Communist Party.

"I don't see any possibility that the center-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 center-left, which will revert to supporting
D'Alema if Napolitano does not get broad backing.

Francesco Rutelli, leader of the centrist Daisy party,
denied that suggestion and appealed to the center-right to back
the life senator who Prodi hopes will be seen as a less
divisive figure than D'Alema.

"He (Napolitano) is an authoritative figure in the
Democrats of the Left, but even more he is a man of the
institutions, able to ensure that the president will represent

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, the largest party in
his coalition, to propose one of their own for the job because
it 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
policy program.

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

During a meeting with center-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)