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Prodi’s Presidential Chances Hurt by Loss in Five Star Primary

Former Head of the European Commission Romano Prodi
Former head of the European Commission Romano 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. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

Romano Prodi, the former head of the European Commission and a two-time Italian prime minister, saw his candidacy for the nation’s presidency hampered today by a loss in a primary ballot.

Prodi, 73, finished eighth out of nine candidates in an online vote held by Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, the party that holds a blocking minority in parliament. Prodi’s place on the ballot, which included three judges, a war surgeon and a Nobel Laureate writer, was a surprise when announced April 13, given the ex-premier’s ties to a rival party and Five Star’s push for renewal in Italian politics.

Five Star nominated Milena Gabanelli, an Italian television journalist for state-owned RAI television, the party said today on Grillo’s blog. The pick reflects the strategy of shunning cooperation with rival parties as parliament struggles to find consensus to end Italy’s political stalemate. Grillo has rejected compromises with either former Premier Silvio Berlusconi or Pier Luigi Bersani of Prodi’s Democratic Party.

“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.

Winner Today

Gabanelli, host of current affairs TV news show Report, 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, a long-time adversary of Berlusconi, was given the spot among 10 finalists after a Five Star write-in ballot last week.

Gino Strada, founder of the non-profit medical association Emergency, came in second, while Dario Fo, the Nobel Laureate, was last after saying he didn’t want to be president. Grillo, an ex-comic who is not a member of parliament, removed his name from the primary ballot before voting began yesterday.

Grillo 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.

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.

Avoiding Alliances

Five Star, the third-biggest parliamentary force after Bersani’s coalition and Berlusconi’s group, failed last month to win the speakerships of the Senate and the lower house after refusing to cooperate with rivals. Grillo won a quarter of the vote in a February general election and has since steered clear of alliances in preparation for a possible return to the polls

Napolitano’s successor will become the key figure in the effort to resolve the political deadlock that’s left 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 cited in Italian newspapers as possible candidates who could find support from Bersani and Berlusconi.

Five Star is the first major party to settle on a presidential candidate as rival political forces keep their options open. Bersani is seeking a deal with Berlusconi over the presidency that could help him secure a mandate to form a government.

The president serves a seven-year term.

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