Italian crisis deepens as Romano Prodi rejected as president

Former prime minister fell a long way short of the 504 votes required, polling only 395


It hardly seemed possible but the Italian parliament further complicated the current government crisis yesterday when for the second consecutive day it failed to elect a new state president.

After the Democratic Party’s (PD) first choice candidate, Franco Marini, had been defeated on Thursday, the PDs had hoped their old warhorse, not to say champion, namely former European Commission president Romano Prodi, might swing it for them in yesterday afternoon’s fourth vote when an absolute majority, rather than a two thirds majority would have sufficed.

However, Prof Prodi fell a long way short of the 504 votes required, polling only 395 in a vote in which, by way of protest, the centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party, led by media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, did not take part.

Given that the PDs, on paper at least, could count on 496 votes, this was a poor result for Prof Prodi as well as a devastating upset for the Democratic Party which now seems headed for a dramatic night (or morning) of the long knives as it tries to halt a fast-encroaching process of implosion.

“This was an absurd vote. Someone here is trying to burn down their own house, a house which every day is defended and supported with enthusiasm and commitment by our militants and volunteers.

“With this secret vote, these vile pyromaniacs are humiliating all the people of the PD, causing a tsunami in the party and damaging the country.

“Out of respect for Italians and for our electors, you have to stop this. . .” commented PD deputy Enrico Gasbarri.

Bitter criticism
Needless to say, the PD’s difficulties prompted bitter criticism on the centre-right side of the house, with PDL senator Altero Matteoli saying: “This result provides blatant proof that Prodi cannot be the next president of the republic. He should now withdraw or the PD party should withdraw him. . .”

The entire centre-right argues that the centre-left’s strategy was totally mistaken in that they chose a second candidate who, while he might have been expected to unite the centre-left, was always going to seem like a divisive figure to his old rivals on the centre-right, particularly to Mr Berlusconi himself.

Badly mangled
In the end, Prof Prodi’s candidacy failed on the both fronts since not only did the centre-right refuse to vote for him but he also manifestly failed to unite a centre-left which had emerged badly mangled from Thursday’s vote. The way forward is now far from clear.

The PDs may feel that they have to persevere with Prof Prodi, if only to save face and party dignity.

On the other hand, they could switch their allegiance to constitutionalist Stefano Rodota who picked up 213 votes yesterday evening.

Prof Rodota is the chosen candidate of the M5S protest movement, who control 163 votes.

With the M5S votes allied to those of the PD, Prof Rodota would have little difficulty making the 504 majority vote.

Another possibility would be to switch to current interior minister, 70-year-old Anna Maria Cancellieri, who is supported by various centre forces and who last night returned 78 votes.