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Italian Prime Minister-Elect Proposes Compromise Presidential Candidate

Published: 08 May 2006
Incoming Prime Minister Romano Prodi has been forced to propose an octogenarian senator-for-life as the new president in an attempt to appease the main centre-left party without exacerbating the divisions between the incoming government and the centre-right opposition.

Global Insight Perspective


After the centre-right declared that it would not sanction the election of former prime minister Massimo D'Alema as president, Romano Prodi has been forced to nominate Giorgio Napolitano, one of the seven life senators, to succeed outgoing incumbent Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.


The compromise candidate underlines the difficulties facing Prodi in the new political landscape; he has to reconcile the interests of the Democrats of the Left (DS), the main party in the centre-left coalition, without alienating those centrist parliamentarians within the centre-right opposition, whose support he will need if he is to face down the more left-wing elements in his coalition and push through the necessary reforms.


The centre-right will block Napolitano's election for the first three rounds of voting, which will increase the pressure on Prodi to accept one of the four 'compromise' candidates that are acceptable to the centre-right. Nevertheless, he will have to balance this with the demands of the DS.

The Politics of Compromise

Italy's 1,010 'grand electors' – the members of the upper and lower house of regional representatives – today begin the arduous process of electing a successor to President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, whose seven-year term officially expires before the first round of voting begins. Underscoring the new landscape of Italian politics - ushered in by the return of full proportional representation (PR), allied to a wafer-thin majority for the centre-left under Romano Prodi – representatives of the rival coalitions have been involved in frantic negotiations in an effort to find a compromise and avoid a series of bruising parliamentary votes that could weaken prime minister-elect Romano Prodi's ruling coalition, even before it has taken power.

While the departing head of state was not an ally of outgoing prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, consistently thwarting his attempts to bludgeon through controversial legislation, in the eyes of the centre-right he was politically sound, unlike Massimo D'Alema, the former prime minister and chairman of the Democrats of the Left (DS), Prodi's first choice for the post. With Berlusconi and the centre-right coalition declaring that D'Alema was an 'indecent proposal' to be the head of state, the envoys from all of the main political parties began negotiations to find a compromise candidate in earnest.

As the largest party in the three-party centre-left ‘Olive Tree’ coalition, and in the victorious Union, the DS has hitherto noticeably failed to take any of the major institutional posts. In an effort to preserve the unity of the fractious Union, D'Alema removed his candidacy for the speakership of the Chamber of Deputies (lower house of parliament), allowing the Reformed Communists (PRC) leader Fausto Bertinotti to take the prized position. Nevertheless, now the DS is insisting that as the main party on the centre-left, it is its right to claim the presidency (see Italy: 3 May 2006:Defiant Italian PM Formally Tenders Resignation, Defeated Centre-Right Coalition Proposes New Term for Incumbent President).

In an effort to appease both the DS and nominate a candidate that would be acceptable to the centrist elements within Berlusconi's centre-right House of Liberty coalition, Prodi has put forward the octogenarian Giorgio Napolitano, one of the seven life senators who are appointed by the president, and who have seen their political stock rise in recent days during the tense negotiations over the key institutional posts. While Napolitano – a former speaker of the Chamber of Deputies – is also a member of the DS party, he won his political spurs in the 1970s and 1980s under the pentapartito system, where all legislation was essentially hammered out in a series of compromises between the main five political parties, and as a result he is seen as a less divisive figure than D'Alema.

Outlook and Implications

Nevertheless, it appears that Prodi will be unsuccessful in his efforts to reconcile the demands of the main party in his coalition with the need to parachute someone into the all-important presidency who will not alienate those centrist parliamentarians within the House of Liberty, such as the 39 lawmakers in the lower house belonging to the Union of Democratic Christians and the Centre (UDC), who would be willing to back the necessary economic and labour reforms presented by Prodi.

The populist Northern League (LN) and the National Alliance (AN) have already signalled their intent to vote against Napolitano, and the four parties in the centre-right coalition look set to vote for Berlusconi's candidate, his outgoing undersecretary, Gianni Letta, in the first three rounds of voting (where a two-thirds majority is required). In theory, after that time Prodi could use his slim majority to push through Napolitano in the fourth round (where a simple majority is needed), but this would undoubtedly irritate the UDC and the centre-right senators, who do not always toe the party line in parliamentary votes.

With the centre-right 'grand electors' vote set to hold firm against Napolitano in the early rounds, Prodi will be sounding out the leadership of the DS and his other centre-left allies to determine whether he can compromise over the four figures that the centre-right have stated they could accept as president. These include the former socialist prime minister Giuliano Amato, the former centrist prime minister Lamberto Dini (who has been both a member of the Olive Tree alliance and the House of Liberty coalition) and former European commissioner Mario Monti. Should the DS leadership once again relinquish one of the main institutional positions in an effort to maintain some prospect of political co-operation with the opposition, party leader Piero Fassino will be under strong pressure to demand a greater share of cabinet positions, which could spark renewed infighting in the fractious coalition.

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