Giorgio Napolitano Re-elected Italian President

Sat, 04/20/2013 - 14:21

In a dramatic and unprecedented development, outgoing President of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano has been re-elected as president for a second term.

Politicians in the Italian Parliament have been voting for a new president this week given that the 87-year-old Napolitano was due to retire in May. Napolitano was re-elected in the sixth round of voting, after agreeing today, 20 April, to put his name forward as a possible candidate.

Napolitano agreed to stand after a week when politicians failed to find a compromise regarding a possible president. Such was the chaos that politicians voted for bogus candidates such as Italian actress Sophia Loren and porn star Rocco Siffredi rather than vote for candidates suggested by a rival party – or even those suggested by their own leaders. Some politicians failed to turn up to vote. The impasse has led to protests outside the Quirinal presidential palace.

The re-election of a president is unprecedented and is symptomatic of the breakdown in Italian politics. The country went to the polls in late February and the left-wing coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani’s Partito Democratico (PD) won the general election in February by a whisker. Since then, Italy has struggled to form a government because political parties have failed to form coalitions with one another. The elections for president have proved to be an equal sticking point, with parties refusing to back possible candidates suggested by rival parties.

The impasse came to a head yesterday, 19 April, when Bersani resigned as head of the PD after more than 100 electors from the centre left did not vote for his proposed candidate, 73-year-old former Prime Minister Romano Prodi. The PD will now have to elect a new leader. In the last election for a new leader, Bersani beat the 38-year-old Mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi into second place. Renzi was reluctant to support Prodi’s nomination and he is tipped as Bersani’s likely successor.

The President of Italy is the head of state, somewhat like Queen Elizabeth II in the UK. The president is elected by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate in a secret ballot. The office holder has to be aged 50 or more. However, being president is not a lifetime role and a presidential term lasts seven years. Napolitano’s re-election is the first time a president has served a second term. It appears unlikely he will serve another seven years, and media commentators are suggesting he may serve another one or two years.

President Napolitano is charged with yet again attempting to form a government, which he has been unable to do since February. If a coalition government is achieved, it is unlikely to last long, with commentators suggesting that new elections could be held as early as autumn 2013. The hope is that however long any possible government last it may be able to introduce critical measures to help Italy’s flagging economy and reform Italy’s electoral laws so that they may produce the chance of a stable government in a future election.

The ongoing debacle has angered many Italians, who are suffering from what is the deepest recession since World War II. Unemployment is on the rise with 2,500 Italians losing their jobs each day, the country has 31,000 fewer companies at end of this year’s first quarter because they have closed, and emigration rose by 30% in 2012 as Italy’s young people head abroad to find jobs.

Some in Italy regard the fact that politicians in the main two parties, the PD and Silvio Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà (People of Freedom) have struggled to find an accord as symptomatic of them protecting their positions rather than attempting to change. Italians’ appetite for change was evident in the success of a new political movement, the MoVimento 5 Stelle (5 Star Movement, M5S) led by Beppe Grillo at the general election. The M5S won the largest share of the vote in terms of a single party, but given the PD was part of a centre-left coalition that gained more votes overall, Bersani was asked to form a government. The M5S stood on a platform that it would not enter into a coalition with any other party, but some hoped that if the presidential candidate they suggested – the constitutional lawyer, former head of Italy’s privacy authority and centre-left MP 79-year-old Stefano Rodotà – was voted in there would be a chance they may agree to form a government.

After Bersani’s resignation, the head of fashion label Tod’s, Diego Della Valle, told Reuters: “The politicians should be ashamed of what they’re doing to the country... we’re seeing a level of irresponsibility that goes beyond all limits.”

Some commentators have cited the outcome of the presidential election as an example of gattopardismo. The word describes a phenomenon that alludes to the situation described by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in his novel of 1958, ‘Il Gattopardo’ (The Leopard), whereby there appear to be political reforms and changes but they are merely superficial so that the status quo remains.