ROME: Italy’s lawmakers re-elected 87-year-old President Giorgio Napolitano on Saturday in a bid to break the country’s political gridlock, as protesters outside parliament jeered the result.
The ex-communist Napolitano won with a sweeping majority of 738 ballots out of 1,007 possible votes — well ahead of leftist academic Stefano Rodota, backed by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, who scored 217.
But hundreds of people rallied in Rome at a protest called by Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Five Star Movement, shouting “Jokers!” “Shame!”
Grillo’s party came third in February elections, shaking up the traditional political system, and his supporters were angry that their candidate Rodota had been rejected by the two main political blocs on the right and left.
Although former comedian Grillo had been scheduled to join the demonstration, he later reconsidered. But in a blog post, he condemned Napolitano’s re-election as a ‘coup d’etat’ by the mainstream parties.
In a posting earlier this week, Grillo remonstrated with leftist leader Pier Luigi Bersani, demanding to know why he refused to back Rodota.
“Too well-educated? Too independent? Too honest? Too popular?” he taunted.
“Too much like the president of everyone?”
By Friday however, Bersani had become another casualty of Italy’s political deadlock, saying he would step down once a new president was elected.
He announced his impending departure after a rebellion within his own ranks stopped two presidential candidates he had backed — former European Commission president Romano Prodi and former trade union leader Franco Marini — from getting enough votes.
Napolitano’s re-election finally broke the deadlock.
But he had only agreed to stand for an unprecedented second term on Saturday, after pleas from outgoing prime minister Mario Monti, rightist leader Silvio Berlusconi and Bersani.
Later, at a brief ceremony in the presidential palace after he was voted back in, he called on bickering politicians to ‘honour their commitments’ after a ‘tormented’ presidential election process.
“We must all bear in mind, as I have tried to do, the difficult situation of the country,” he said.
US President Barack Obama congratulated Napolitano, praising his ‘extraordinary leadership’.
“I admire his decision to once again serve the Italian people as president, and welcome the decision that the Italian parliament has made to come together to select him for continued service,” he said. — AFP