Italian lawmakers failed on Thursday to elect the nation’s president during initial rounds of voting, the latest worrisome evidence of the political discord that has thwarted the formation of a government for two months.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano’s term ends next month and choosing his successor is viewed as a critical step toward resolving the political impasse that resulted from inconclusive national parliamentary elections in February.
While the presidency is mostly ceremonial, the post has the power to dissolve parliament and call a new national election, and also tap the candidate with enough support in the legislature to try to form a government.
During Thursday’s vote by both houses of parliament and regional electors, Franco Marini, a long-time union leader and former Senate president, finished first in the initial ballot, but fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed during the first three rounds of voting.
In round two, the majority of lawmakers cast blank ballots to buy time and allow for a night of consultations to plot a new strategy, before voting resumed yesterday morning.
Only a simple majority is required by the fourth round of voting, so politicians may simply wait it out until they have a better shot at getting their candidate through.
Italian heads of state, often widely respected and picked to be above the political fray, also work to build national unity, which is now vital as politicians squabble over how to rebuild Italy’s recession-mired economy.
Political parties have sparred for weeks over suitable candidates to succeed Napolitano, but center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani and center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi had reportedly reached an agreement over Marini’s candidacy on the eve of the vote.
Many of the dozens of protesters who gathered outside parliament as the voting got under way lashed out at Bersani for having made a deal with Berlusconi on Marini’s candidacy.
“Bersani killer of the Democratic Party” one banner read.
Others shouted “Rodota, Rodota.”
Stefano Rodota is the candidate of the protest 5-Star Movement.
Perhaps most worrying for Italians frustrated over rising taxes and stubborn unemployment, and for financial markets easily spooked by instability, the latest display of political disarray could be a prelude to a quick return to national polls to pick a new parliament.
As lawmakers failed to agree on a choice for president, some cast prank ballots for porn star Rocco Siffredi and actress Sophia Loren.
Italian Parliamentary Speaker Laura Boldrini was quick to point out — and not tongue-in-cheek — that Siffredi “does not have the prerequisites,” Italian media reported.
At 48, the actor is below the age threshold of 50 to be president.
Berlusconi’s wife Veronica Lario also appeared in the voting, along with buxom starlet Valeria Marini — a namesake of serious presidential candidate Franco Marini.
“I’m flattered,” Valeria Marini said. “I know it was ironic, but I’m still pleased.”
She still declined and said: “It’s important that the right choice is made. The president is a linchpin.”
As the names were read out, there were peals of laughter and bursts of applause in parliament.
One prankster even cast a ballot for a fictional character Raffaello Mascetti — a hard-up aristocrat played by beloved deceased comic actor Ugo Tognazzi.