Italy Reelects 87-Year-Old President: Operetta or Melodrama?

AP

Italy finally has a new president. Oh, well, an old president for that matter... After five rounds of fruitless votes and useless negotiations, 87-year-old Giorgio Napolitano had to come to terms with the fact that the parties in Parliament would never be able to put together the needed 504 votes for his successor. Helpless party leaders begged him to stand for a new election. Very reluctantly, so he did; he had no other choice, as a lame-duck president has very reduced powers in Italy and notably cannot dismiss Parliament when no agreement is found over the new government.

If it wasn't for the terrible conditions of the country, it would be excellent material for an operetta.

When PDL's leader Silvio Berlusconi resigned in November 2011, the Democratic Party (PD) was looking forwards a landslide victory. Instead, not only did PD manage to lose its consistent electoral advantage, but it is now bound to collapse, drifted apart by internal fights.

PD is formed by different segments -- mainly former Christian Democrats and former Communists -- which were glued together by their hatred for Berlusconi. As Berlusconi's leadership appeared to be at a close, their internal contradictions exploded. Instead, Berlusconi is well alive, while comic actor and M5S leader Beppe Grillo proved extremely skillful in exploiting the internal PD's contradictions. The voting for the president clearly showed how the two souls of the party boycotted each other's candidates, resulting in no election at all. Napolitano's decision to go on is also probably linked to a hope of saving what is left of his party, before it is too late. Unfortunately, it is already too late.

April 2013 will thus mark the end of Italy's "Second Republic," giving way to a new political landscape. It can be very good or very bad, and much will depend on what will happen over the next few days.

Napolitano will now use his resumed full powers to name a short-term, high profile, government charged to achieve a number of necessary reforms -- including changing the electoral law -- before going on to a new vote. Rumors are that Giuliano Amato is likely to be named prime minister and indeed he is the only man in Italy able to achieve the daunting task.

The young major of Florence, Matteo Renzi, will finally get his nomination as candidate for prime minister. If Renzi wins, this is likely to lead to the dissolution of both PD and PDL as we now know them. The PD "un-reformed" communists -- essentially those who claimed PD should govern with Grillo and vote his candidate to the presidency -- will join the more leftish "SEL" party. Berlusconi -- the man who showed that not only cats have nine lives -- will retire from politics on his own terms. Right-wing PDL members will probably reunite with Giorgia Meloni's "Italian Brothers."As a result, Italy would enjoy a system of two main parties, plus two to three small regional / more extreme ones and finally become a normal country, under a new, younger leadership.

As for Grillo, the inadequacy of the M5S' MPs clearly appeared in these two months. This makes it crucial for him to get to a new vote before the electoral law is changed and the bluff is called. Grillo is now denouncing a state-coup and organizing a "march on Rome." A loud manifestation outside the Parliament took place during Napolitano's reelection.

Italy is thus at a crossroads. After showing an embarrassing incapacity to lead the political process, the current PD and PDL's leadership will now have a choice: supporting a large-coalition government that will undertake the necessary reforms and lead to a new Italy, or do nothing and witness the country slip into total chaos. Between operetta and drama, let's hope Italian leaders opt for the first and finally give Italy a happy ending.