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A New President for Italy

Voting started today in Italy for a new president to replace Giorgio Napolitiano, 87, whose term of office ends in May.

Final UPDATE – April 20, 06:30pm Current Italian president President Giorgio Napolitano has been re-elected. This is the fist time an existing president has been re-elected in Italy’s history.

What will happen now is not clear. Either some attempt will be made to create a right and left coalition government, or elections may be called.

Beppe Grillo will not be happy, nor will many Italians. The re-election of Napolitiano is a huge fail for old guard Italian politicians and may hand Italy over to Beppe Grillo and the 5 Star Movement when elections are held.

End of final update

The new president will be selected by Italy’s rag tag bunch of permanently squabbling politicians and lots of bickering has been taking place over who should be proposed as a candidate for the position. Presently, there are two favorites, Franco Marini and Stefano Rodotà.

The new favorite appears to be Romano Prodi –  there are some rumors that Rodotà may stand down in favor of Prodi, but see below.

All change! Prodi has now dropped out of the presidential candidate race – the second center-left preferred candidate to bite the dust after failing to garner enough votes from his supposed supporters.

Meanwhile, Mario Monti’s Civic Choice party is proposing current interior minister Anna Maria Cancellieri as a candidate. Unlikely she will win, but if so, she would be Italy’s first ever female president. Berlusconi is said to be interested in backing Monti’s choice.

Marini withdrew from the presidential race the day after he did not earn enough votes to stand a chance of becoming Italy’s next president.

If you can read Italian, this article on voting for a new president for Italy is interesting: Governo, Presidente, Camere: FAQ elezioni 2013, domande e risposte sul dopo voto

UPDATE: April 20 – 05:30pm Current president Napolitano has agreed to stand for re-election. Berlusconi PdL, Mario Monti Civic Choice, Lega Nord and PD parties will probably vote for him.

Voting is now in progress. If Napolitano is re-confirmed as Italy’s president, it will be the first time this has happened in Italy’s history.

Re-election of Napolitano is being seen as a “coup” by Beppe Grillo who is on his way to Rome to protest at decision to keep Napolitano. Beppe Grillo will be in Rome for 7:30pm in front of Italy’s parliament building to lead a protest. Grillo has called upon millions to descend upon Rome. There is already a crowd outside Italy’s parliament and it has been chanting Rodota’ – the presidential candidate Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement proposed after an online primary.

Members of the other parties are unhappy with Grillo’s use of the word coup, but that is what it looks like. Italy’s old political guard is working hard to save its skin while Italy falls. Or that is how many Italians will see what may well happen in Italy today.

The choice of Napolitano reflects just how inept Italy’s old guard politician are – they simply do not want change to be allowed to happen in Italy, it seems.

Update end

UPDATE: April 20 – 02:05pm: Yet another inconclusive vote. Now the plan has emerged to see if current 87 year old president Napolitano wants to stay on for a little longer. Italy is awaiting his response, but he was not at all keen on another term on run up to presidential elections. End of update

UPDATE: April 19 – 23:15: The leader of Italy’s center-left PD party, Pier Luigi Bersani, has announced his resignation. Another PD bigwig, Rosi Bindi has also gone.

Bersani messed up the elections, messed up, twice, choice of presidential candidate and has failed to convince anyone to help him form a government for Italy. Even worse are rumors of a secret pact with Silvio Berlusconi, which, in view of Bersani’s forthcoming resignation may well have been more than rumors.

What happens now? Well, first of all, Italy will have to choose a new president and Bersani’s imminent absence may make this task a little easier.

Berlusconi may be cracking open the prosecco in celebration at the news of the fracturing leadership of the PD party, but he’ll also be rather worried that a non-Berlusconi friendly head of state and government could end up in power.

Berlusconi will push for elections, but they may not work out as well as he would like them to – he’s part of the old, rotten Italian political system which appears to be withering away, thanks in great part to ex-comic Beppe Grillo and his 5 Star Movement. Berlusconi and his cronies are likely to be next and they will be aware of this.

End of update

UPDATE: April 19 – 7:50pm: Another PD flop – not enough votes obtained for star candidate Romano Prodi to make him president. PD leader, instead of uniting his party, is destroying it. Italy is still without a president. 5th vote will be held tomorrow – from 10am on.

Nobody understands just why PD won’t go for Rodota’ candidate – unless it’s a case of old guard Italian politicians trying to save their skins, which is probable.

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Berlusconi will be happy that a) Prodi was not elected & b) that PD party is on the point of committing suicide.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow. End of update.

PS for more updates and comment, follow @newsfromitaly on Twitter.

UPDATE: April 19 – 12:35: Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement will not vote for Romano Prodi, despite rumors to the contrary.

Rodotà remains 5 Star Movement’s presidential candidate and will not withdraw. The 5 Star Movement does not want a president chosen by Silvio Berlusconi. Update end.

UPDATE: April 19 – 11:55: It’s sounding as if suspected secret pact between Bersani PD party and Berlusconi PdL has been shredded. Berlusconi and cronies are meeting to try to find a way to fend off possibility that arch rival Romano Prodi might end up as Italy’s new president. This will not be easy for Berlusconi & Co, as PD party with support of the 5 Star Movement have enough votes between them to elect whoever the two parties can agree on.

UPDATE: April 19 – 10:05: The third of four initial votes will be held from around now, but is highly unlikely to produce any result. The mainstream political parties will leaving voting slips blank to play for time.

A fourth, and potentially decisive, vote will then be held, possibly today. After the Marini candidate flop of yesterday, Italy’s center-left is rumored to be pointing towards ex-prime minister and Berlusconi arch-rival, Romano Prodi. But the 5 Star Movement will hold out for their voters choice who is Stefano Rodotà. Romano Prodi is also a candidate the 5 Star Movement would be more or less happy with.

After virtually causing his PD party to implode by choosing a Berlusconi-friendly presidential candidate for the first round of voting yesterday, center-left leader Bersani appears to have decided to listen to his voters – hence to decision to go for Prodi.

There is absolutely no guarantee a new president will be elected today – the process could take a few more days, if not longer. The names of new candidates may arise too. The situation is very fluid, but it does look as if Italians want a president who is not entangled in the machinations of old-guard Italian politics. Marini, the flop candidate, was very much seen as being a representative of the old-guard and widely detested political old guard. By choosing Marini, Bersani was going back on his electoral promise of bringing about change in Italy – and this angered both this in the PD party and many of its voters too.

Further updates will be added. End of update.

UPDATE – 18:40: A second vote was eventually held, but still no new president for Italy. Votes for Mussolini and an Italian male porn star were recorded. At least the porn star is still alive! You can’t beat Italy’s serious, professional, politicians, can’t you?! Correction: Votes for Mussolini were for granddaughter Alessandra, not the late Benito, at least that’s what is thought, but when certain people have voted for a porn star, anything is possible!

UPDATE – 15:30: Another vote is to be held in a few minutes, but is not likely to be conclusive as many of mainstream parties will vote using blank cards to play for time. It does not look as if old guard politicians favorite Franco Marini is likely to get the job. It looks as if a replacement for Marini may be found. Update end.

UPDATE – 13:56: As the vote count in the first round of voting proceeds, it’s looking as if the unpopular choice of Franco Marini is not going to obtain the votes he needs to end up as Italy’s new president. Some in Italy will be breathing a sigh of relief. Update end.

Normally, the election of a new president in Italy does not garner that much attention, but this time round, most probably in view of Italy’s dire economic and political state, the vote is attracting almost as much attention as national elections.

Another novelty this time round is that Italy’s population has tried to make its voice heard in order to ensure the nation ends up with a worthy president. This does not usually happen. Italy’s parliament is supposed to represent the wishes of Italy’s citizens, though generally it doesn’t really bother listening to what the people want.

Faith in Italy’s political class is at an all time low, so if the “wrong” president is chosen, the Italian public may take to the streets to moan and groan publicly. We shall see.

A President with Power, if He Wants to Use It

While the function of Italy’s presidents is, at least on paper, largely ceremonial, in practice, the president can greatly influence the direction Italy takes. By way of example, it was Italy’s current president Napolitano who more or less had Silvio Berlusconi removed in favor of the Mario Monti led technocrat government. In short, presidents of Italy can wield an enormous amount of influence, if they choose to and, more importantly for some, Italy’s presidents can be influenced. Indeed, they can be persuaded to place the right people in powerful positions. This power is precisely why Italy’s reactionary old-guard politicians are so very keen to see someone who is ‘friendly’ as president.

Silvio Berlusconi, for example, is fishing for a friendly president, as he needs someone who could grant him eternal immunity from prosecution. The Berlusconi candidate of choice had probably agreed to do this.

Such a person would appear to be the 80 year old Franco Marini, a left leaning, old-school Italian politician who appears to be allergic to change. That he may end up as Italy’s new president is worrying many who would view his appointment as being traditional intransigent old Italian politics getting its way, yet again.

Marini is also the choice for the leader of Italy’s left-leaning PD political party, although the decision to back Marini has led to ructions within Bersani’s party. Before proposing Marini as a presidential candidate, Bersani consulted with Berlusconi, during a late night meeting, who duly gave his thumbs up to the choice. Marini was chosen by Bersani and others as a choice which Berlusconi would approve, not only because he’s Berlusconi friendly, but also because he would have appointed friendly people on Italy’s center-left and Berlusconi’s pseudo right to positions of power. Marini would have thus kept Italy’s old guard polticians in power for a little longer. Italy would have suffered as a result. A choice acceptable to Berlusconi is unlikely to be a good choice for Italy, alas.

The Politicians’ Choice

While Marini is effectively the, old-guard, politicians’ choice, and reflects the reluctance of Italy’s old-guard political parties to bring about change in Italy, the people’s choice, is a left-leaning academic and politician called Stefano Rodotà.

The Peoples’ Choice

Although Rodotà is as old as Franco Marini, he’s known to be more progressive, and not caught up in Italy’s little power games. He’s someone who would probably help Italy bring about the changes it desperately needs. Marini, on the other hand, would not, or that is the fear.

Rodotà came second in an informal online presidential primary held by Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement after journalist Milena Gabanelli who came first said thanks, but no thanks to being a candidate for Italy’s presidency.

As is often the case in Italy, those who tend to keep Italy from progressing and have, as a consequence, caused (and exacerbated) many of the nation’s problems, are playing a key role in deciding Italy’s future. This is not too promising in view of Italy’s current economic state.

After first round of the presidential election process, Marini won, but did not obtain enough votes to become Italy’s new president. It now looks as if Marini is out of the running, but some other attempt to keep Berlusconi may be made – Massimo D’Alema is known to be Berlusconi friendly, for example and is being talked about as a Marini replacement.

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