The seven-year term of president Giorgio Napolitano is up in May. The Italian parliament has the task of voting for the next president. However, parliament is so splintered  that no suitable candidate has surfaced.

The first three rounds of voting require a two-thirds majority. In the first round of voting, Pier Luigi Bersani, the left party leader struck a deal with Mr Berlusconi to support Franco Marini, an 80-year-old former Christian Democrat trade unionist.

However, in a secret ballot vote shocking to Bersani, about 200 center-left politicians voted against the deal as did Beppe Grillo’s Five star movement.

The second round vote also failed as did the third given no candidate can come to a two-thirds majority.

The 4th round of votes only requires a simple majority. For that vote the center-left abandoned Marini in favor of former prime minister Romano Prodi.

The rally around Prodi attempt may gather in some center-left votes, but Berlusconi wants nothing to do with Prodi. He was willing to back Marini in belief that Marini would shield him from prosecution, but will not back Prodi.

The Financial Times reports …

Mr Berlusconi’s People of Liberty attacked Mr Prodi head-on and declared that it would consider backing the candidacy of interior minister Anna Maria Cancellieri, who has been nominated by the small centrist party led by caretaker prime minister Mario Monti.

Mr Monti gave a press conference in parliament to make a strong endorsement of Ms Cancellieri, who would become Italy’s first female president.

“She is not a representative of the old politics, nor of politics in general and is not a member of any party. She is a servant of the state, independent and authoritative,” said Mr Monti, who would have been a leading candidate for the presidency himself had it not been for his decision to shed the neutrality of a technocrat and launch his own party, which polled only 8 per cent in February’s elections.

Mr Monti, a former European commissioner, praised Mr Prodi – his former colleague as European Commission president – but said at this moment Italy needed a figure who would unite not divide the parties.

On paper Mr Prodi has 495 votes if the Democrats and the allied Left Ecology and Freedom party remain united. That leaves him needing just nine more to gain the absolute majority he needs in the fourth round, when the requirement of a two-thirds majority expires.

Mr Bersani spent several fruitless weeks seeking support for a minority government from the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the third largest force in parliament, and must now be hoping that he can persuade a handful to help him break the deadlock over the presidency.

Beppe Grillo, the activist leader of the movement, has told Mr Bersani to give up, describing him as a “dead man talking”. The movement, which stunned the establishment by winning a quarter of the popular vote in February, is backing Stefano Rodota, a leftwing academic and lawyer, as its candidate for president.

Grillo’s Rise

Bloomberg fills in a few more details in Bersani Coalition Fractures

Bersani was deserted by allies on the first ballot as Franco Marini, the candidate he backed with Berlusconi forces received 521 of 1,007 possible votes, less than the necessary two-thirds majority. With no path to a Marini victory, both the Democratic Party and Berlusconi’s forces cast blank ballots on the second vote.

Marini garnered 521 votes in the first vote, more than twice that of Stefano Rodota, the candidate of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. More than 400 lawmakers cast blank ballots in the second vote.

The Democratic Party and Berlusconi’s People of Liberty, or PDL, were thrown together by the emergence of Grillo, an ex- comic and anti-corruption crusader who won a blocking minority in the February elections. Five Star, which refused to support Bersani’s bid for the premiership last month, campaigned against political scandals and says its aim is to sweep established lawmakers from power.

Grillo is gaining support from Bersani’s group. Rodota, a professor and former lawmaker with a forerunner party of the PD, is getting the votes of Bersani ally Nichi Vendola and some dissenting PD members.

Berlusconi is appealing convictions in wire-tapping and tax fraud cases. He is also standing trial accused of paying a minor for sex and abusing the powers of his office. He has denied all the charges.

Political Posturing in Perspective

The office of power is that of prime minister. The office of president is largely symbolic except perhaps to Berlusconi who seeks to avoid prosecution with a pro-Berlusconi president in place.

And even if the parties could agree on a president, and they will eventually, the politics are such that new elections will be held because barring a miracle, no coalition can possibly form now.

Bersani failed miserably. He will soon be gone. The center-left will rally around Florence mayor Matteo Renzi. But to what end?

It is conceivable that new elections result in yet another deadlock. It is also conceivable Berlusconi’s party will be back in power.

Whatever the result of the next election, any coalition that forms will not be stable. Support from Grillo’s Five-Star Movement may be necessary to form a new government and Grillo seems unwilling to give it.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock