Bersani Party Splinters on Presidential Deal With Berlusconi

A deal on a compromise presidential candidate in Italy sparked dissent in Pier Luigi Bersani’s Democratic Party, casting doubt on the result.

The first round of voting by the 1,007 presidential electors ended in failure today after defections from Bersani’s block prevented ex-Senate Speaker Franco Marini from gaining the necessary two-thirds majority. Bersani and Silvio Berlusconi came together late yesterday to back Marini in a deal that was contested by Democratic Party members and its allies.

“They’re going to vote for Marini, but not me,” Giuseppe Civati, a Democratic Party parliamentarian, said in an interview. “It’s all wrong. There’s no popular support.”

The next head of state, succeeding President Giorgio Napolitano, 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.

The president is chosen by secret ballot in an 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. The first vote starts at 10 a.m.

Bersani turned to Berlusconi, the billionaire and three-time prime minister, to break a deadlock that has left the country with a caretaker government since an inconclusive election Feb. 24-25. The move alienates members of his delegation who have criticized Berlusconi’s policies, his record in office and his criminal convictions.

Grillo’s Emergence

The Democratic Party, known in Italy as the PD, and Berlusconi’s People of Liberty, or PDL, were thrown together by the emergence of Beppe Grillo, whose Five Star Movement won a blocking minority in the February elections. Five Star, which refused to support Bersani’s bid for the premiership last month, campaigned against corruption in politics and says its aim is to sweep established lawmakers from power.

Grillo is gaining support from Bersani’s group. Five Star’s nominee, Stefano Rodota, a professor and former lawmaker with a forerunner of the PD, will get the votes of Bersani ally Nichi Vendola and some dissenting PD members including Civati.

Rodota was second in the initial vote today with more than 700 ballots counted.

“The outcome of this morning’s vote is thus far from guaranteed,” Riccardo Barbieri, chief European economist at Mizuho International Plc., said in a research report. “Beppe Grillo outmaneuvered Bersani.”

Berlusconi is appealing convictions in wire-tapping and tax fraud cases. He is standing trial accused of paying a minor for sex and abusing the powers of his office. He has denied the charges.