May 8, 2006

Italian MPs set for second vote on president

By Robin Pomeroy

ROME (Reuters) - Members of Italy's parliament -- split
between left and right -- were called back to the chamber on
Tuesday to try to unblock the political stalemate preventing
the election of a new head of state.

Center-left leader Romano Prodi, who won last month's
general election, cannot take office until a president is
chosen and gives him a mandate but he has been unable to
persuade the center right to back his presidential choice.

A first round of voting on Monday was inconclusive when the
center right, led by outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi,
refused to back Prodi's candidate, a member of the biggest
left-wing party.

Giorgio Napolitano, an 80-year-old senator-for-life of the
Democrats of the Left (DS), received only eight votes after
Prodi instructed his supporters to leave their ballots blank,
rather than write his name on the voting slips in what was sure
to be a losing battle without the support of the right.

In the first three rounds of voting, a candidate needs the
backing of at least two-thirds of the "grand electors" --
parliamentarians and regional representatives. That is
impossible without an agreement between both sides.

The second round is due to start at 11:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m.
EDT), if that fails again, another will follow later on

By the fourth round, which will not take place before
Wednesday, a simple majority is enough to elect the president,
and if Prodi cannot achieve a bipartisan deal, he should be
able to use his slim majority to force his candidate through.


However, keen to avoid the ill feeling such a move would
cause among center-right politicians and voters, Prodi said he
hoped to reach a consensus with Berlusconi's bloc on Tuesday.

"We're waiting for confirmation. The signs are good. I hear
the House of Freedoms (center-right bloc) is holding talks and
I hope that will bring about an agreement and that tomorrow
(Tuesday) the president will be elected," he told reporters as
he went home after Monday night's vote.

Berlusconi also struck a conciliatory note.

"Napolitano's candidacy is not to be excluded, we are
working to get a wider agreement," he told reporters after his
coalition met.

Napolitano, a quiet-spoken elder statesman, was put forward
as a candidate only after Berlusconi ruled out supporting the
higher-profile Massimo D'Alema, chairman of the DS and, like
Napolitano, a former member of the Communist Party.

Political pundits speculate that, if a two-thirds majority
cannot be found on Tuesday, D'Alema may return as the
front-runner when the simple majority rule comes into effect on

On Monday, 369 center-right members voted for Gianni Letta,
an undersecretary in Berlusconi's outgoing administration and
the media tycoon's political right-hand-man.