Mon, Mar 18, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Italian lawmakers elect center-left parliament leaders

NO EASY TASK:Electing leaders is routine for a new parliament, but it required four rounds of voting in another sign of Italy’s ongoing political crisis

AP, ROME

Italian lawmakers on Saturday elected center-left leaders for both chambers of parliament, paving the way for difficult talks to form a new government to get started.

Normally a routine procedure for a new parliament, filling the positions required four rounds of voting in both the lower house and the Senate, highlighting Italy’s political gridlock following last month’s elections, which gave no party a clear victory.

Former UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Laura Boldrini was chosen to lead the lower house, while anti-mafia prosecutor Piero Grasso was elected Senate leader.

“The country more than ever needs fast and effective answers to the social, economic and political crisis that it is going through,” Grasso said.

Boldrini won 327 votes to secure a majority in the 630-seat lower house. In the Senate, Grasso beat center-right candidate Renato Schifani in a runoff with 137 votes to Schifani’s 117.

No candidate won enough votes in the initial rounds on Friday as parliament convened for the first time since the Feb. 24 and Feb. 25 election. The majority rules were relaxed in the subsequent voting rounds on Saturday.

Today, each party and coalition will have to select caucus leaders, the final step before Italian President Giorgio Napolitano can open talks on forming a government, expected next week.

Investors are watching the sessions closely for signs of what to expect from the eurozone’s third-largest economy, whose debt hit a new high, topping 2 trillion euro (US$2.6 trillion) in January, according to the Bank of Italy.

Center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani’s party finished first in the election and has a stable majority in the lower house, but not in the Senate. Bersani has ruled out an alliance with former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right forces, which finished second.

However, Bersani has failed to persuade the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, which captured a quarter of the votes, from cooperating on a leadership strategy. The Five-Star Movement, led by comic-turned-political leader Beppe Grillo, refuses to align with any major party.

The political stalemate has raised the possibility of new elections in the coming months and bodes badly for Italy’s efforts to pass the tough reforms it needs to snuff out its economic crisis.

Berlusconi was met with jeers from protesters as he arrived to take part in the Senate vote, a day after leaving a Milan hospital following a week’s treatment for an eye inflammation.

Before entering the Senate building, he turned to the protesters and said: “Shame on you.”

Berlusconi has been seeking to have two trials — a tax fraud appeal and a sex-for-hire hearing — postponed due to the eye condition. The courts responded by dispatching court-appointed doctors to verify its severity.

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