May 10, 2006

Italy votes again for president as Prodi hopeful

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - Incoming Prime Minister Romano Prodi said
his centre-left coalition aimed to elect Italy's first former
communist as president on Wednesday and be asked to form a
government next week, ending a month of political limbo.

Prodi expressed optimism to reporters as lawmakers began
voting in a fourth and possibly definitive ballot to elect
Italy's new president, who would then give him the mandate to
form a new administration.

Asked whether he expected to be asked to form a government
on Sunday, Prodi said: "If it's not Sunday, it will be

Prodi has decided to push for his candidate Giorgio
Napolitano, an ex-communist, to be elected despite opposition
from most of outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's
conservative bloc.

Napolitano, an elder statesman and member of the Democrats
of the Left party, could be elected the country's 11th
post-1945 head of state if Prodi's coalition sticks together in
the secret vote by 1,009 lawmakers and regional

On paper, the center left can count on 540 votes, 35 more
than the 505 absolute majority required as of Wednesday, after
two days of inconclusive votes which needed a two-thirds

Prodi's inability to get his candidate elected in the early
rounds has highlighted the problems he may face in pushing
through his policy agenda with only a wafer-thin majority.

Winning the vote is important if Prodi is to show his
leftist coalition can govern with one of the smallest
majorities in post-war Italy and with Berlusconi vowing fierce
opposition after the centre-left government is formed.

The vote may also prove risky because the secret ballot
allows "snipers," politicians who break ranks, to vote as they


While most newspapers said Napolitano would be likely to
get the nod, they did not exclude the possibility that some
centre-left "snipers" would vote against him to show their
discontent with some of Prodi's early decisions since last
month's national election.

Some centre-left politicians are not happy with Prodi's
decision to drop Democrats of the Left chairman Massimo D'Alema
as presidential candidate in an attempt to appease Berlusconi's

Corriere della Sera newspaper said in an editorial that it
would be disastrous for Prodi if centre-left "snipers"
prevented Napolitano's victory.

Berlusconi, who needs to show he can hold his own bloc
together now that it is in opposition, has urged his entire
bloc to withhold support for Napolitano because of his
communist past, but he has not convinced everyone.

The stakes are also high for the billionaire media mogul
because a good showing for Napolitano would indicate
centre-right defections in protest against his leadership and
the loss of last month's elections to Prodi.

The center left has appealed to parties in Berlusconi's
bloc -- which are divided over Napolitano, an 80-year-old life
senator -- to support him in Wednesday's ballot.

At least one party in Berlusconi's coalition, the Union of
Christian Democrats, has openly disagreed with his veto of
Napolitano, indicating they may vote for him.

For his part, Napolitano has assured the center right that
if elected he will be "impartial and above party politics."

The post of president is largely ceremonial but the head of
state has the power to name the prime minister, dissolve
parliament and send legislation back to parliament.