The Italian parliament starts voting to elect the new President of the Republic today. Centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani has agreed with Silvio Berlusconi and Mario Monti to back the candidacy of Franco Marini – an 80 years old, pipe-smoking former trade unionist and Senate speaker (see picture).
Bersani faced a clear political choice. He could either support the candidate put forward by Beppe Grillo’s Five-Star Movement (law professor Stefano Rodotà) or go for a more Silvio-friendly name. The decision to back Marini is a clear sign that Bersani does not want to burn all the bridges with Il Cavaliere – given that talks on the formation of the new Italian government will resume after the election of the new President.
However, Bersani may have overlooked the knock-on effects of the decision in his own camp. This is what happened after he told his party about his decision yesterday:
- The party split over Marini’s candidacy. Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi, regarded by many as Bersani’s successor as party leader, called Marini “a candidate from the past century”. Italian papers estimate that up to 90-100 members of Bersani’s party will not vote for Marini.
- Bersani’s left-wing ally Nichi Vendola said Marini’s candidacy was “the end of the centre-left”. His MPs will vote for Grillo’s man instead.
Needless to say, all this plays into Berlusconi’s hands. His centre-right alliance looks far more united at the moment, and is ahead in opinion polls. If Marini is elected as President and the split in the centre-left remains (admittedly two big ifs), Il Cavaliere could be tempted to push seriously for a return to the polls – this time with a good chance of victory.
Finally, a quick reminder of how the voting works. There are 1007 ‘great electors’ (all the 630 MPs + all the 319 Senators + 58 regional delegates). There will be two ballots a day – the first one is currently under way. A two-third majority (672 votes) is required in the first three ballots. A simple majority is sufficient from the fourth ballot on.
Ballots are secret, so it’s hard to predict whether Marini will make it in one of the first three ballots. Expect the vote to be very tight anyway. If Marini fails to achieve the two-thirds majority, Bersani may consider putting forward another name to try and repair some of the damage made to his party.Open Europe blog team