May 21, 2013
Italian president urges unity as poll pressure grows
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano appealed to political leaders to work together to form a government, but his appeal fell on deaf ears and pressure grew for a new poll after last month's deadlocked election.
The threat of months of political instability following the inconclusive ballot has triggered warnings across Europe that Italy cannot afford to delay urgent reforms to shore up its massive public debt and boost its sickly economy, now stuck in recession for over a year.
Napolitano is due to begin consultations with political leaders on Wednesday to see if there is any chance of establishing a government after the election which left parliament split between three deeply opposed forces.
Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), won control of the lower house but fell short in the Senate leaving him dependent on the support of his rivals if he is to form a government.
Bersani said he would tell Napolitano he would not try to reach any set deals in advance but would present proposals to parliament based on attacking corruption and creating jobs.
"The path is very, very narrow. I think I can say that other paths would turn out to be even narrower," he said.
However prospects of a deal with either former premier Silvio Berlusconi or the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement, which holds the balance of power, appear remote, raising fears of a return to the polls, possibly as early as June.
Both Angelino Alfano, secretary of Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom party, and 5-Star leader Beppe Grillo prophesied a short life for parliament, which held its first sittings to elect house speakers on Friday and Saturday.
"We are in favour of going to the vote as soon as possible so that Italians can give their opinion and we can begin a new legislature," Alfano told RAI television in an interview.
Before that can happen, parliament must elect a successor to Napolitano, whose mandate ends on May 15. An outgoing president does not have the power to dissolve parliament, so any new elections would have to be called by his successor.
Alfano's offer to cooperate with Bersani as long as his party was allowed to pick the next president was rejected out of hand by PD officials.