Giorgio Napolitano reelected Italy’s president amid protests and political chaos

Giorgio Napolitano is elected as Italy's president for a second mandate, an unprecedented event in the institutional history of the country. His re-election follows a few days of political stalemate and chaos and was welcomed by loud protests, emphasizing the political crisis and the inner contradictions of the Italian Democratic Party.

Submitted by StrugglesInItaly on April 21, 2013

As of April 20, 2013, Giorgio Napolitano is the new elected president of the Italian Republic. The 87-year old was elected for his second mandate with 738 votes after 5 failed rounds of elections.* None of his predecessors had ever served for a second mandate: reelection of an outgoing President is an unprecedented event in the history of the Italian Republic.
While many had saluted Napolitano’s first mandate in 2006 as a political victory of the centre-left ticket, his second election falls in a completely different climate, following a few days of political stalemate and chaos.

On April 18, PD and PDL announced their newly found convergence on the name of Franco Marini, a former Christian Democrat, prominent PD member and former Speaker at the Senate. Yet, he was defeated in two subsequent rounds, as many of his fellow party members turned their backs on him. The announced alliance of the PD and the PDL, meanwhile, was enough to infuriate many rank-and-file PD members who were disgusted by their party’s complacency towards Berlusconi.
Supporters of Matteo Renzi (the 38-year old who challenged Bersani’s leadership at the recent PD leadership elections, coming second) publicly burned their membership cards in a sign of protest. Members of the youth association of the PD occupied their party’s offices in Turin; they were soon imitated by young PD members in Prato, Lucca, Bozen, Padua, Bari, and Naples.

Meanwhile, the votes of M5S and SEL converged on the jurist Stefano Rodotà, also a PD member, with a past in the PCI (Communist Party of Italy) and a proven record of work in the field of civil rights. His past appointments include having been the Italian Ombudsman for the protection of privacy, and chairing the EU Coordination Group of Trustees for the right to privacy. The candidacy of Rodotà (originally proposed by the M5S) gained the unexpected support from dissident members of the PD, but still failed to achieve the needed majority. At the sixth and last round of election, Rodotà came in second, with 217 votes.
Former Prime Ministers Romano Prodi and Massimo D’Alema as well as Mayor of Turin Sergio Chiamparino were also among the jumble of names. Over the past 3 days, the failure to elect a new President created a hectic climate, with public splits and major fallings out.

The name of Giorgio Napolitano came out at the ‘eleventh’ hour as a ‘last-resort’ proposal that could finally break the current political gridlock. The outgoing president accepted to stand again for election in the name of political responsibility, he claimed.
Napolitano’s reelection failed the hopes of renewal of many Italian electors. Among other things, his acquiescence towards many legislative decrees of Berlusconi’s former cabinet and his support of Monti’s technocratic executive has earned him the hostility of many left-wing electors who were hoping to turn a page.

This situation has already taken its toll on the Democratic Party. On April 19, Pierluigi Bersani, Secretary of the PD, resigned after the failure of his proposed ‘mediation’; so did Rosy Bindi, former Christian Democrat and current president of the Party’s General Assembly.
The high ranks of the party are shaking under the rage of the many rank-and-file members of the Party who carried hopes of a political renewal. Many old-school militants have publicly announced their disappointment with a party that systematically refuses to listen to its base of supporters. Meanwhile, old hawk of the PD Massimo D’Alema (who briefly lead the Executive in 1999) was spotted calmly strolling in Rome, and many see his shadow in the disastrous outcome of the PD-PDL mediation. Finally, this situation opens a breach in the already fragile centre-left electoral cartel, with SEL publicly walking out of the alliance to give open support to the M5S candidate.

M5S founder and charismatic leader Beppe Grillo dubbed the election of Napolitano as a ‘coup’ and called for an immediate protest in front of the building of the Italian Parliament, Palazzo Montecitorio. “Don’t leave me alone, there needs to be millions of us,” was Grillo’s plea. He also added, “Today we do democracy or we die.” Hundreds of protesters had already started to gather around the Parliament during the afternoon, ringing anti-establishment chants. A group of 150 people was blocked by police on Via Nazionale, as they were heading towards the Quirinal Palace, the Presidential residence. Later in the evening, Grillo cancelled the announced protest, affirming he will not arrive in Rome until Sunday. Vito Crimi, M5S spokesperson at the Senate, also tried to pour water on the fire, inviting the crowd to disperse and to wait for the planned demo on the following day.

Stefano Rodotà commented on his defeat with mild words, lamenting the ruling class’s failure to propose a new name, but also stating that “the will of the Parliament is democracy.” After reminding everyone of his long record of political engagement in the left, he also stated that he is not a fan of “marches on Rome,” a definition clearly alluding at the upcoming M5S protests, and recalling the staged political demonstration that earned Benito Mussolini the Presidency of the Council on October 28, 1922.

On the one hand, this solution seems to mark the end of the Democratic Party, undermining its already compromised political representativeness. Once again, the moderate left failed to achieve real change but fell prey to its internal divisions, promoting an old name that failed to satisfy its own core of activists and members.
On the other hand, the unprecedented reelection of an outgoing president proves the existence once more of the current crisis of democracy in Italy. If anti-politics and generalized anti-establishment feeling are on the rise, top-down and self-appointed government in the name of the “nation’s best interest” seems to be the other side of the coin. Once again, the appeals to ‘responsibility’ are used as an ideological cover to promote solutions based on political exceptionalism: first the indefinite extension of Monti’s provisional executive, and now the reelection of Giorgio Napolitano.

*Note: The President of the Italian Republic is elected by the Senate and Chamber of Deputies in a joint session; the required majority is of 2/3 of the joint Parliament 642 votes). After the first three rounds, however, simple majority is required (504 votes).

Sources available here.