Italy (eventually) re-elects 87-year-old Napolitano

Italy flirted with an 80-year-old trade-unionist, an 82-year-old jurist, a political giant who would have been 80 by the end of his mandate, and opted for a former communist who will be 94 if he serves out his term

President Napolitano: re-elected
Tim Hedges
On 22 April 2013 11:34

Italy has had three days of intense political excitement and woken up on Sunday morning to what appears to be some sense of order, although many worry it is the calm before the storm. Days, weeks, perhaps months of speculation, negotiation and intrigue lie ahead in the political stalemate which has paralysed the country’s politics.

Voting in the presidential election began on Thursday 18th. Beppe Grillo, despite his party’s young image, opted for 82-year-old jurist Stefano Rodotà, his first two choices having declined the nomination. Berlusconi merely said he would accept a centre-left President if there were to be a grand coalition government, a ‘governissimo’, incorporating his own PdL party. Bersani of the centre-left nominated Franco Marini, 80, a trade union leader and former Senate Speaker. Thought to be on the right of the centre-left, Marini’s name, amongst many others, had been negotiated through talks with Berlusconi.

With the support of Bersani, Berlusconi, Maroni of the Northern League and current Primer Minister Mario Monti it seemed Marini couldn’t lose.

So of course he did (this is Italy). It turned out that Bersani had ignored protests from within his own party and the protesters promptly rebelled. In presidential elections each parliamentarian, deputy or senator, together with some regional representatives, has a vote. The protesters wanted to know what Berlusconi had been promised in return for supporting a left-wing candidate. Word on the social media was that Silvio would get immunity from prosecution. Marini had got 521 votes against Rodotà’s 240 but a two-thirds majority is needed in the early ballots so the requirement was 672 out of 1,007.

In the second ballot Marini dropped out (‘a change of strategy’) but Beppe Grillo’s Rodotà couldn’t get past 230. There were 477 (out of 1,007) blank voting papers and abstentions as the electors withdrew for consultations. Same on the third ballot, with Rodotà, still the only big name in the ring, on 250 votes, and more than half the electors submitting blank papers and abstaining. During this time, electors put up a series of joke candidates, including a porn film star (male of course).

On Friday afternoon, for the fourth ballot, Bersani put forward the name of Romano Prodi. This was an attempt to silence his own critics and regain control of his party. Prodi is a towering, unassailable figure: Prime Minister twice, on each occasion undoing Silvio Berlusconi, and former President of the European Commission, an important buttress of national pride that an Italian could hold such a position. For the fourth ballot only a bare majority is required – 504 votes – and Prodi seemed a shoo-in. The makers of commemorative mugs were assembling images of his serious but friendly face.

So of course he lost, too, garnering only 395 votes. The shock was palpable. Something like a quarter of Bersani’s electors had ‘betrayed’ him, to use his own word. Prodi himself, like most of the Euro-elite regarding democracy only as a tool for getting the right people in place, was outraged.

“I have been ambushed”, he declared, “and the people responsible will be made to pay.” It doesn’t seem to have crossed his mind that a large number of people didn’t want him in the job. His nickname is Mortadella because he comes from Bologna and outside parliament people were finely chopping the giant sausages in protest.

Bersani was a broken man. He had gravely offended the most important person in centre-left politics and it was clear he had lost control of his party. He said he would resign as soon as a new president was chosen. A man whose political career started in the 1980s and led to various ministerial appointments before becoming leader of the centre-left in 2009 was destroyed in a matter of days.

The fifth ballot went the way of the second and third, with more than 70 percent of the electors putting in a blank paper or formally abstaining. The leaders, Bersani and Berlusconi but not Grillo, were ensconced in the Quirinale Palace with President Napolitano. They persuaded him to stand again and on the sixth ballot on Saturday night Napolitano won easily, with 738, nearly three quarters of the vote. He is the first President to be re-elected.

Italy had flirted with an 80-year-old trade-unionist, an 82-year-old jurist, a political giant who would have been 80 by the end of his mandate, and opted for a former communist who is already 87 and will be 94 if he serves out his term. This clearly isn’t a young man’s game (nor woman’s: Annamaria Cancellieri’s surge to 78 votes on the fourth ballot, one third of the male lead, made her the most popular woman ahead of Alessandra Mussolini, who had appeared in parliament in a T-shirt bearing the inscription ‘The Devil wears Prodi’).

Napolitano will be sworn in immediately, and has said that he will quickly make a statement on what he intends to do. This is likely to include reform of the electoral law, but little else could be achieved without fresh elections. The latest polls say the result would be similar to the last one, however Bersani’s likely replacement, 38 year old Matteo Renzi, might improve the party’s popularity and be more acceptable to Beppe Grillo’s 5-star Movement.

There is still everything to play for.

Tim Hedges is a weekly columnist for the Commentator. He previously worked in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer and novelist

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