The re-election of Giorgio Napolitano as Italy’s president has ended a two-month political gridlock and paves the way to a possible new government within days.
The re-election on Saturday (20 April) of Napolitano came after three days of bickering, which saw two Democratic party (PD) candidates, Franco Marini and Romano Prodi, rejected by the Parliament.
While the Italian president is mostly a figurehead, the incumbent can appoint governments in times of crisis and the 87-year-old Napolitano is now expected to push politicians into accepting a coalition government of his choice.
Giuliano Amato, 74, who served as premier in 1992 and 2000, and Enrico Letta, second in command of the centre-left Democratic party, are the two repeatedly cite as being the leading candidates for prime minister.
Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti is a candidate to take over as foreign minister, Italian media reported on Sunday.
As politicians inside Montecitorio, the seat of the Italian lower chamber, cheered Napolitano’s re-election, demonstrators protested outside. By Saturday evening the crowd had swelled as thousands of people vented anger at an outcome that was widely seen as perpetuating the grip on the country of a discredited political class and favouring centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi.
The leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement Beppe Grillo called on "millions" of Italians to protest against Napolitano's re-election which he called a "coup d'état."
In brief statement from his presidential palace, Napolitano said the coming weeks would be crucial for the country and called on all sides to "fulfil their duties."
PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani announced late Friday that he would quit after the new president was elected, leaving the largest force in parliament rudderless and making prospects for broader political stability looking even weaker.
Bersani's departure could make way for his arch-rival the 38-year-old mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, who has wide public support but is viewed with suspicion by the old PD hierarchy.
"Now the PD has the chance to really change, without any fear, we'll try," Renzi said in a tweet on Saturday.
Most on the centre-left, torn apart by internal divisions since the February vote, fear new elections and so may be more willing to come to terms with Berlusconi.
"Berlusconi is the real winner because there will be a broad coalition that will be a disaster for the country," said Nichi Vendola, head of the small Left and Freedom party which looks ready to quit the centre-left alliance that fought the election.
If no government is rapidly found, Napolitano has the power to dissolve parliament, which he did not have in the final months of his last term.
The re-election of Napolitano is largely seen as a way to solve the political stalemate. No president has ever been elected for a second term.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Giorgio Squinzi, head of the Confindustria business association, urged squabbling politicians to form a coalition government to avoid prolonged economic recession.
Squinzi said Italy was not Belgium, referring to a country that had no prime minister for 535 days following parliamentary elections in 2010. He added the latest economic data were sending worrying signals.
The Confindustria leader said the political deadlock is costing the eurozone’s third-largest economy about 1% of output after a fall of 2.4% last year.