Italian Political Impasse Tested as Presidential Vote Begins
Italian lawmakers get a chance to begin breaking an eight-week political deadlock today as they consider nominations for the next head of state.
The first ballot at 10 a.m. in Rome’s Chamber of Deputies will indicate whether tensions between Pier Luigi Bersani’s Democratic Party and forces loyal to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have eased. Broad agreement on a successor to President Giorgio Napolitano could revive moribund talks on forming a new government, which have yielded only acrimony since inconclusive elections Feb. 24 and Feb. 25.
“The number of voting stages ultimately required to elect the president will have a very important signaling content,” Nick Matthews, senior European economist for Nomura International Plc in London, said yesterday in a report. “It should show whether an agreement between the center-left and the center-right was achieved.”
Competition between the Democratic Party on the left and Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party on the right reduced parliament to a near-standstill and scuttled Bersani’s attempt to secure the premiership. Bersani and Berlusconi told their respective supporters last night they would support the candidacy of former speaker of the Senate Franco Marini, though the choice is dividing Bersani’s coalition.
Matteo Renzi, who challenged Bersani for the party leadership, said last night that the agreement “was disrespectful for the country.” Nichi Vendola, whose SEL Party is also part of Bersani’s coalition, said his supporters won’t back Marini.
More than 90 of Bersani’s coalition allies opposed the candidacy in an internal party vote last night, according to Twitter posts by lawmakers attending. That level of dissent may leave Marini short of the needed two-third majority on the first three ballots. From the fourth vote, only a simple majority is needed.
Napolitano’s successor will become the key figure in the effort to resolve the political impasse. The head of state appoints the prime minister and, when stalemates prove intractable, dissolves parliament and calls new elections.
Investors are relying on Bersani and Berlusconi to reach a deal that will ultimately lead to a government with enough support to pass economic stimulus and shield against the European debt crisis. The Democratic Party, known in Italy as the PD, and Berlusconi’s People of Liberty, or PDL, have been thrown together by the emergence of Beppe Grillo, whose Five Star Movement won a blocking minority in the February elections.
The president is chosen by secret ballot in a 1,007-member electoral college comprising all national lawmakers and some regional representatives. Votes are cast one at a time and then counted one by one in a process that typically allows time for two ballots a day.
“Numerous structural factors now make an agreement between the PD and PDL on a presidential candidate slightly more likely than not,” Peter Ceretti, a Eurasia Group analyst in New York, said yesterday in a research report. “Low trust between Bersani and Berlusconi, the sheer number of veto players involved, and the possibility of surprise defections all create distinct risks.”
Italian 10-year bond yields fell 2 basis points to 4.23 percent at 9:30 a.m. in Rome, down from 4.45 percent before the February vote.
Grillo said yesterday that his more than 150 electors would back Stefano Rodota, a university professor and former lawmaker. Grillo settled on Rodota, who finished third in an online Five Star primary, after the top two choices declined the nomination.
Bersani, who controls Italy’s lower house of parliament, needs help from forces led by Grillo or Berlusconi to secure a majority in the Senate. Last month Bersani failed to entice Grillo into an alliance while shunning a potential deal with Berlusconi, a billionaire and three-time premier.
“We hope to have an answer quickly,” Federico Ghizzoni, chief executive officer of UniCredit SpA, said the presidential selection at an event in Rome yesterday. “This is very important, also in order to have, soon after, a new government.”
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