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Prodi fails in bid to unite PD

Fifth vote for president Saturday morning

19 April, 19:22
Prodi fails in bid to unite PD (ANSA) - Rome, April 19 - Two-time centre-left premier and ex-European Commission chief Romano Prodi failed to be elected Italian president in the fourth ballot Friday. Prodi apparently fell short of reuniting the centre-left Democratic Party after rifts in earlier ballots.

With 395 votes, Prodi did not reach the 504 needed to win a simple majority of the 1,007 total votes in the parliament and from regional electors. A fifth vote will take place Saturday morning. Italy's centre left tried to bury its internal rifts when the Democratic Party (PD) chose Prodi to be its new presidential candidate earlier Friday.

But the move infuriated Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PdL) party.

The head of state represents national unity, and usually a figure capable of winning broad cross-party party support is sought for the role.

However, Prodi, a 73-year-old former economics professor, is seen as the nemesis of three-time premier Berlusconi after defeating him at the helm of centre-left alliances in elections in 1996 and 2006. "Prodi is an option that divides us. This is the opposite of what Italy needs," said PdL Senator Maurizio Gasparri. In the first ballot to elect the new head of state on Thursday the PdL backed former Senate Speaker Franco Marini, who had been proposed by the PD. But Marini failed to prevail after an internal PD revolt so centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani dropped him on Friday and proposed Prodi, to the ire of Berlusconi who accused the PD of betrayal. The decision to drop Marini is seen as a major victory for the PD's rising star, Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, whose loyalists led the revolt.

Renzi, a 38-year-old who has been compared to Tony Blair and came second to Bersani in December's premier-candidate primaries, has also blasted the party leader for his handling of Italy's political impasse after the centre left came first in February's election but failed to win a working majority in the Senate Bersani, meanwhile, called on the PD to rediscover its unity after opting for Prodi.

"Now we have to regain the profile, unity and autonomy of our party and our coalition," Bersani told a meeting of the PD Upper and Lower House lawmakers and regional representatives taking part in the election of the next head of state. "Prodi gives value to our coalition and he speaks to our nation," said Bersani.

But in the first vote with Prodi on the ballot, the ex-premier came up short in healing the party's internal rifts, as several lawmakers close to Marini are said to be upset at him being dropped, ANSA sources said. A number of parliamentarians loyal to former premier Massimo D'Alema are irked too. They are said to be unhappy that Bersani only presented Prodi to the party as a possible alternative to Marini rather than giving a shortlist of options, including D'Alema.

On a positive note for Bersani, Puglia Governor Nichi Vendola, the leader of the leftwing SEL that was allied with the PD in February's inconclusive general election, said he was willing to back Prodi. In the first ballot, SEL voted for Constitutional lawyer Stefano Rodota', the candidate of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. The M5S has said it will continue voting for Rodota', who was selected following an online vote after making a shortlist that also included former European Commission president Prodi.

This led to speculation that the movement led by comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo might drop their man and adopt Prodi as their candidate. But the M5S lawmakers voted to stick with Rodota' at a meeting on Friday.

Grillo also emphatically ruled out the possibility of M5S lawmakers switching support to Prodi. "No one in the M5S has ever dreamed of voting for Prodi and they won't dream of it in the future either," Grillo told a rally.

"Our president is Rodota'". Rodota' is an ex-Communist who was the inaugural chairman of the first heir to Italy's once-strong Communist Party in 1990.

On Friday Grillo once again suggested that the PD supporting Rodota' could lead to a truce with M5S that might break the deadlock. "It would open up prairies" for the government, said Grillo.

But Rodota', also a former head of the national privacy watchdog, is seen as more divisive than Prodi for the PD, which is trying to heal the deep rifts exposed by the failure of Marini.

The PdL is considering adopting Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri as its candidate after speaking to outgoing Premier Mario Monti's Civic Choice party.

Cancellieri is one of the unelected technocrats that have served in Monti's emergency administration since November 2011.

The next president will have to decide whether to try to form a government from the hung parliament that emerged from February's general election or call a snap vote.

Unlike outgoing Napolitano, dissolving parliament was not an option as his seven-year term was about to run out, ruling out a snap vote according to constitutional law.