15/05/2006 - Results
A month after the much disputed general and senatorial elections won by a narrow margin by the leftwing forces led by Romano Prodi Italy was again the focus of attention with the election of its President by a college of grand electors rallying MPs, senators and representatives from the country's regions. This election which witnessed the victory of the candidate presented by the leftwing coalition did not help in bringing a country divided after the parliamentary elections back together again. This election was awaited with even greater anticipation since Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, President in office, had decided to allow his successor to appoint the future President of the Council.
The President of the Republic occupies an essentially honorary position in Italy. He is the guarantor of the country's unity and yet he does have two important roles to play: that of dissolving Parliament and of referring a law back to MPs and senators for two reasons (if he believes that the text is unconstitutional or if he believes there is insufficient funding for it). Carlo Azeglio Ciampi employed this latter power in 2003 against a law on the concentration of the media and in 2004 against a reform of the legal system. The President of the Republic is also head of the Council of the Magistrature thereby enabling him to define legal priorities. He is elected for seven years by a college of 1010 grand electors: 630 members of the Chamber of Representatives, 322 senators and 58 representatives of 20 of the country's regions. During the first three rounds a candidate must win two thirds of the votes i.e. 674 in order to be elected. From the fourth round on only the simple majority is required.
Tradition requires that the President of the Republic be a man of consensus who lies above the political parties. He unifies people beyond the parties and very often rallies the suffrage of the greater majority of the grand electors to his name. Former governor of the Italian Central Bank, former Minister of the Treasury and the Budget in Romano Prodi's government (1996-1998) the extremely popular Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who in 1999, was elected in the first round winning 707 out of 990 votes, for a seven year period was the perfect symbol of a President; he was independent and able to unify the Italians. However Ciampi now 85 gave up the idea of standing again saying to a number of people both on the left and right who wanted him to undertake another term in office: "Not one of the nine previous Presidents of the Republic has ever been re-elected. I believe that it has become an important custom. It is better not to break from that. I believe the renewal of a long term in office such as this seven year one is poorly adapted to the republican nature of our country."
On 4th May last Romano Prodi and Silvio Berlusconi met for the first time since the victory on the part of the left coalition in the elections on 9th and 10th April. "A first meeting which was long and cordial," according to the winner. The leftwing coalition decided to put forward Massimo d'Alema, president of the Left Democrats (DS), as candidate for the supreme office. This choice was immediately rejected by the opposition which believed this "an indecent proposal" in the words of Silvio Berlusconi who accused Massimo d'Alema of having been a member of the Communist Party (PCI) a party from which the Left Democrats emerged. The former President of the Council declared: "When we talk of the President of the Republic it must be someone who is the guarantor of the Constitution, the flag and the unity of Italy. It must be someone able to provide all the parties guarantees of total impartiality. Negotiations are possible but we should decide whether Italy is still a democracy or whether it is slipping dangerously towards a dictatorship." The rightwing put forward other "acceptable" personalities from the left who might have met with their approval such as Giuliano Amato former President of the Council (1992-1993 and 2000-2001) and former member of the Socialist Party, and Lamberto Dini (Daisy Alliance) former President of the Council (1995-1996), and even Franco Marini (Daisy Alliance), who has just been elected president of the Senate. Silvio Berlusconi denounced "the Communist occupation of power" if a candidate were to be elected simply by the votes from the parties on the left.. "If we no longer feel represented, if we are no longer in the institutions we shall undertake a fiscal strike and we shall obstruct Parliament. And I can promise that I shall personally lead the opposition as never seen before in Italy," he declared. "Il Cavaliere", the outgoing President of the Council's nickname also did not appear ready to accept a personality from the left as candidate going as far as saying: "I believe that by putting forward a leftwing politician to become President of the Republic is almost tantamount to a red alert for democracy." The Catholic Church also revealed its hostility to the candidature of Massimo d'Alema and proposed Mario Monti, former European Commissioner for Competition (1999-2004). Romano Prodi's choice of Massimo d'Alema can be explained by the fact that the party, albeit the largest in the leftwing coalition was somewhat forgotten during the distribution of positions after the general and senatorial elections.
For its part the rightwing coalition put forward 69 year old Gianni Letta, advisor to the outgoing Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
Leaders of the majority and the opposition met again on 7th may to try and come to an agreement on the name of the candidate of consensus. At this meeting were Gianfranco Fini the leader of the National Alliance (AN), Pier Ferdinandi Casini of the Union of Centre Democrats (UDC), Gianni Letta, advisor to Silvio Berlusconi, Francesco Rutelli, leader of the Daisy Alliance; Piero Fassino, Secretary General of the Left Democrats and Rocardo Levi, advisor to Romano Prodi. The leftwing coalition then put forward Giorgio Napolitano to stand for the supreme office, a lifelong senator and also member of the Left Democrats.
The first round of the election for which a candidate must win two thirds of the vote of the grand electors took place on 8th May. Romano Prodi called on the grand electors of the leftwing coalition to return a blank vote, a procedure often used during the first rounds when there is no agreement on a candidate on the part of either side of the political scale. 438 representatives followed this advice; Gianni Letta won 369 votes and Massimo d'Alema 27. Neither of them was therefore elected. More than 150 grand electors did not follow the advice and voted for other people. Hence Silvio Berlusconi won two votes, Cesare Previti, MP and the Cavaliere's lawyer at present in prison and accused of corrupting magistrates, won three votes.
Two more rounds of voting took place on 9th May. The leftwing coalition again called for the return of a blank vote, so its candidate again would not appear as the one from just one camp and hoping that the rightwing parties would manage to overcome their divisions with regard to the candidature of Giorgio Napolitano. Indeed within the opposition the Union of Centre Democrats and some of the representatives of the National Alliance were in favour of Giorgio Napolitano. However the Northern League and Forza Italia, the party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi were against this candidature. The first three rounds of the vote did not enable the election of a President of the Republic.
Finally on 10th May the leftwing candidate Giorgio Napolitano was elected by a simple majority winning 542 votes ie one vote more than those of the 541 representatives of the Unione. The House of Freedom called on its representatives to return a blank vote. This advice was followed by 347 of them, with 70 representatives voting in favour of other rightwing candidates. The election of Giorgio Napolitano was however applauded by the members of the Union of Centre Democrats and some of those from the National Alliance. "I congratulate Giorgio Napolitano and we hope he will fulfil the role that the Constitution grants him with impartiality. But this majority does not correspond with how the Italians voted," declared Silvio Berlusconi whilst Romano Prodi maintained that Giorgio Napolitano would be a President for all Italians.
Aged nearly 81, the man who is nicknamed the "Red Prince" was born in Naples in 1925. After the Second World War he joined the Communist Party. Elected as an MP in 1953 he has always featured amongst the moderates in his party. Former president of the Chamber of Representatives, he was Home Minister in the government led by Romano Prodi (1996-1998), then MEP (1999-2004). In 2005, he was appointed lifelong senator by his predecssor Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in return for the services given to the State. He is the first former Communist to reach the highest position in the State.
The President's first task when he has been sworn in on 15th May will be to appoint Romano Prodi and President of the Council. "I think that I shall be sworn in on Tuesday evening or Wednesday. I shall be ready when the time comes. I shall not be late," declared Romano Prodi.
But Napolitano will need all of his experience to work on the first priority during his term in office: help in bringing a country that has been severely divided back together again.