May 9, 2006

Italian lawmakers again fail to elect president

By Silvia Aloisi

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's lawmakers again failed to elect a
new head of state on Tuesday as the centre-right opposition
refused to back the incoming government's preferred candidate,
a former communist.

No candidate obtained the required two-thirds majority in a
fresh vote on Tuesday and outgoing Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi said there currently was "no room for agreement"
with the center left.

Barring any last-minute deal, the third ballot on Tuesday
night was also almost certain to be inconclusive.

The developments meant Romano Prodi's center left would
have to decide whether to push its candidate through, starting
with Wednesday's fourth ballot -- when the majority needed to
elect is drastically reduced -- or continue to seek a

The parliamentary election for Italy's 11th postwar head of
state is the first major test for Prodi since he narrowly won
last month's general election.

It has painfully underscored the difficulty he will have in
pushing through his policy agenda with a wafer-thin
parliamentary majority.

The post of president is largely ceremonial but under the
constitution the head of state names the prime minister and
dissolves parliament -- prerogatives which could be crucial for
Prodi as he prepares to form a government.

Prodi cannot take office until the new president gives him
a mandate.

The center left wants the post to be given to Giorgio
Napolitano, an 80-year-old senator-for-life of the Democrats of
the Left, Italy's former communist party.

The two-third majority needed to elect the president in the
first three ballots means a successful vote is impossible
unless the two blocs agree on a compromise candidate.

In the first of Tuesday's two voting rounds, most ballots
were left blank, as frantic negotiations continued behind the


Napolitano had appeared to be inching closer to becoming
the first ex-communist appointed head of state after two key
parties in Berlusconi's bloc signaled they were ready to back

But Berlusconi himself, who has said any leftwing candidate
would be "indecent," dismissed divisions within his bloc and
ruled out a deal with the center left, at least for Tuesday.

"There is no room for an agreement ... I spoke with the
lawmakers of the political forces in our coalition and they are
all aligned on the position that our voters would not
understand (if we backed Napolitano)," Berlusconi said.

Both sides said they would again cast blank ballots in the
third voting round on Tuesday night as negotiations continued.
That means that ballot is also likely to end in deadlock.

Prodi's bloc must now decide whether to push ahead with its
candidate from the fourth round of voting on Wednesday, when a
simple majority of 505 votes will be enough.

Prodi is keen to seek a compromise with the center right
and avoid a head-on confrontation which would make it harder
for him to push through his policies in the future.

Napolitano, a quiet-spoken elder statesman, was put forward
only after Berlusconi ruled out backing the higher-profile but
divisive Massimo D'Alema, chairman of the Democrats of the
Left. Both are former members of the Communist Party.