Italian parties agree to back Marini for president
Former speaker of the senate and trade union leader Franco Marini likely to be elected by lawmakers, heralding end to political impasse
The Italian parliament's attempt to elect a new president ended in disarray yesterday.
Two rounds of voting failed to herald the end of a two-month impasse over a new government and the threat of fresh political divisions. A third vote is set to take place today.
In a last-minute agreement on Wednesday, Italy's two main political blocs had agreed to back Franco Marini, a pipe-smoking 80-year-old seen as having formidable political skills.
But the deal was seen as highly controversial by many across the political spectrum, with rebel voters preferring Stefano Rodota, a widely respected 79-year-old human rights advocate.
None of the candidates managed to win the necessary two-thirds support in the first round of voting, after leftist leader Pier Luigi Bersani's bid to clinch a deal with his rival Silvio Berlusconi over Marini infuriated many within the centre-left bloc.
He was slammed as having neither public support nor international standing and experts said it was unclear whether he could win critics over.
Winning consensus from Italy's bickering parties "appears more difficult than squaring the circle," political commentator Massimo Franco said in the Corriere della Sera daily.
"Franco Marini is the candidate best-placed to achieve the greatest consensus," Bersani said after negotiations with lawmakers on Wednesday.
"He is a clear-sighted and generous person," he added.
Berlusconi, a scandal-tainted former prime minister who remains a powerful force in Italian politics, said Marini was "a positive and serious person".
Beppe Grillo, an ex-comedian who heads the anti-establishment Five Star Movement party, derided the choice as a "dodgy deal" between left and right.
Grillo said his party's candidate was Rodota, an academic who has long campaigned for civil rights. Marini's election "would be a disaster", Grillo said. "He was a Christian Democrat, a trade unionist, a speaker of the Senate, he is a man of the system," said the ex-comedian, who leads the anti-establishment Five Star Movement party which won a quarter of the vote in February elections.
"He is a president who is a judicial guarantee. He's chosen by Berlusconi. He'll guarantee that Berlusconi stays in place," Grillo said, referring to two trials against the scandal-hit billionaire tycoon and former premier.
"The leaders of right and left met at night in a room to decide the fate of 60 million people".
Grillo talked up the chances of the candidate supported by his party, academic and civil rights advocate Rodota, who came second in the first round of voting yesterday, revealing deep divisions.
"We'll stick with Rodota... If someone wants to vote for him, then great, we can collaborate," he said.
Rodota came third in an online poll of Five Star Movement members but the first two - investigative journalist Milena Gabanelli and medical charity founder Gino Strada - turned down the offer to stand.
Following the February elections, Bersani tried to woo lawmakers from the Five Star Movement, adopting many of their aims, but has been rebuffed.
He has so far ruled out the most obvious alternative - a grand coalition with Berlusconi - which would prove hugely controversial among left-wingers.
Berlusconi has said there should be new elections if there is no deal and polls indicate he would win.