Romano Prodi, the former head of the European Commission and a two-time Italian prime minister, will discover today whether he has the inside track on becoming the nation’s next President.
Prodi, 73, was up against three judges, a reporter, a Nobel laureate writer, a war surgeon and another career politician in an online primary conducted late yesterday by Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, the party that holds a blocking minority in parliament. While Prodi is the best-known candidate, his partisan history risks undermining Grillo’s anti-establishment appeal if he wins the nomination from Five Star.
Grillo’s party upended the traditional balance of power in Italy by winning a quarter of the vote in a February general election, and it has since steered clear of competing parties in preparation for a possible return to the polls. One of those rivals, the Democratic Party of Pier Luigi Bersani, counts Prodi as a founding member and could have the votes to secure the presidency for the ex-premier if Grillo gives his backing.
“It might be that he’s playing a tactical game with Prodi as an instrument,” said Giovanni Orsina, a history professor at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome. “The Five Star Movement is a very complicated creature and I think it’s changing fast.”
Grillo has so far rejected compromises with either former Premier Silvio Berlusconi on the so-called political right or Bersani on the left.
The winner of the Five Star primary, to be revealed today, will have the support of Grillo’s more than 150 lawmakers when parliament convenes on April 18 to vote for President Giorgio Napolitano’s replacement. Prodi, an ally of Bersani and a long- time adversary of Berlusconi, was given a spot among 10 finalists in a Five Star write-in ballot last week.
Napolitano’s successor will become the key figure in the effort to resolve a political stalemate defined by a lame-duck government and a fractious parliament. Prime Minister Mario Monti, who has said he is eager to vacate his post, remains on the job as no party has been able to muster a majority in parliament since the inconclusive election on Feb. 24-25.
Giuliano Amato and Massimo D’Alema, both prime ministers in the 1990s, and former Senate Speaker Franco Marini have been widely cited in Italian newspapers as possible candidates who could find support from Bersani and Berlusconi. Alongside Prodi in the Five Star primary were Dario Fo, the Nobel laureate, Gino Strada, founder of the non-profit medical association Emergency, and former European Affairs Minister Emma Bonino.
Grillo, who is not a member of parliament, removed his name from the primary ballot before voting began yesterday. The ex- comic has said he is unfit to serve in office due to a manslaughter conviction in the 1980s. He was behind the wheel in a one-car accident that killed two friends and their son.
Five Star is set to become the first major party to settle on a candidate as rival political forces keep their options open amid continuing negotiations. Bersani is seeking a deal with Berlusconi over the presidency that could help him secure a mandate to form a government. Grillo, 64, has urged Five Star deputies to shun accords with other parties.
“Now they are radical and they don’t want to be de- radicalized,” said Nicola Marinelli, who oversees $180 million at Glendevon King Asset Management in London. Grillo and Five Star “know that what Bersani is trying to achieve with Berlusconi can only favor them in new elections,” Marinelli said.
The president is chosen by a 1,007-member electoral college comprised of all national lawmakers and some regional representatives. In past presidential elections, two ballots per day were held. To win in the first three rounds, a candidate must secure two-thirds of the potential votes. From the fourth round an absolute majority is enough for victory.
The president serves a single seven-year term.
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