Italian Speakerships Won by Newcomers as Bersani Expands Backing

Italian lawmakers chose political neophytes for speakers of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies as the fractured parliament’s top leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, broadened his support by drawing votes from political rivals.

Pietro Grasso, Italy’s top anti-mafia prosecutor and a first-time senator with Bersani’s Democratic Party, won speakership of the upper house late yesterday with 137 votes, more than the combined number of senators in his coalition. Laura Boldrini, a journalist and former spokeswoman for the UN’s refugee agency, was selected in the Chamber.

Bersani is appealing to rivals after the four-way general election last month left the 61-year-old former communist with control of the Chamber and no clear path to a majority in the Senate. By passing over longtime allies in favor of the newcomers, Bersani renewed his push for backing from Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement. Grasso’s new supporters weren’t revealed as the Senate voted anonymously.

“This is an excellent sign,” Senator Anna Finocchiaro, the Democratic Party’s chief whip in upper house in the last parliament, said to reporters after the vote. “I think it could help with the next decisions that have to be made.”

The speakerships, decided in the new parliament’s second session after failed votes March 15, are the first step toward the formation of a government and a replacement for Prime Minister Mario Monti. The speakers and the heads of each of the four major parties will begin consultations this week with President Giorgio Napolitano, who must appoint a premier with a mandate to assemble majorities in both houses of parliament.

Berlusconi’s Forces

Bersani’s choices for speakership further alienated his party from three-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who controls the second-biggest parliamentary force. Berlusconi’s allies said the results of the speakership votes don’t guarantee Bersani enough backing for a government and urged him to renew the broad alliance that brought Monti to power in 2011.

Grasso was elected with 44 percent of the 313 senators who voted because 59 ballots were turned in blank or without a valid name. Renato Schifani, a member of Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party and Senate speaker in the last parliament, won 117 votes. Monti’s allies, the fourth-biggest Senate force, had said they would cast blank ballots. Newswire Ansa reported Five Star, the No. 3 group, also planned to leave ballots blank.

‘Little Grillos’

“The ‘Little Grillos’ came to Grasso’s aid, but they might not show up for Bersani,” Maurizio Gasparri, a senator and former communication’s minister under Berlusconi, said to reporters. People of Liberty must be included in a broad agreement for the next government “or we go back to the ballot box,” he said.

Senators cast their handwritten ballots one by one in four rounds of voting that stretched over two full days. The counting was recorded as Emilio Colombo, the 92-year-old senator-for-life who oversaw the sessions, read each ballot to the hall individually.

Yesterday’s Senate vote marked Berlusconi’s return to parliament after spending a week in a Milan hospital with an eye ailment. The 76-year-old billionaire, facing verdicts in a tax fraud appeal and a criminal trial in which he stands accused of paying for sex with a minor, arrived for the final vote and was applauded by his allies as he cast his ballot.

The selection of Grasso, a prosecutor, for the leadership of the Senate expands on the law-enforcement priority that Bersani stressed in his election campaign, which ran under the slogan “A Just Italy.” Bersani has said that Berlusconi, who is also under investigation on suspicion of corrupting lawmakers, is unfit to serve.

“Justice and change,” Grasso said in a speech to the Senate after his election. “This is the challenge we have ahead of us.”

Berlusconi has denied the charges against him and said his criminal cases are politically motivated. Allies including Gasparri and People of Liberty General Secretary Angelino Alfano protested on his behalf on the steps outside of a Milan courthouse on March 11 as Berlusconi was seeking trial delays due to his hospitalization. The court approved the delays.

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