An ex-communist as Italian head of state. Unthinkable until recently, it is now a fact. Giorgio Napolitano, 80, won election to the office of president today after parliament ended three days of turmoil and stalemate by giving him, if not a total vote of confidence, a firm enough simple majority to take office.
Napolitano will be the 11th head of state since the Second World War. He is a member of the biggest party in the incoming centre-left coalition. His victory completes a clean sweep by the centre-left of the key offices of prime minister, the leaders of both houses of parliament, and now the presidency.
Now comes the hard part. Outgoing President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi needed all his skills to steer Italy through his tumultuous seven-year term. Napolitano will need similar stamina to emulate his much-praised predecessor. The win is also a boost for Romano Prodi, as he has been able to maintain coalition unity to get his man installed.
The way is now clear for him to take power and form a government. The leader of the centre-left coalition welcomed parliament and regional leaders’ election of the new president. However he regretted the centre-right’s refusal to back Napolitano and predicted he would be able to announce his ministers by next Wednesday. “We are very happy and I believe strongly that the centre-right has lost achance to take part in Napolitano’s election, beacuse he will really be everyone’s president,” Prodi observed.
Outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was unable to get all his supporters to back a blank vote. Enough centrists broke ranks to hand Berlusconi another stinging defeat but he remained defiant. “The left has today completed its total occupation of the state institutions, neglecting the half of the country that expressed itself differently and voted for the right. I believe this half of the country feels that the conclusion of the elections does not respect the will of the people,” he fumed.