Italian Government's Political Deadlock May End

Eight weeks after an exceptionally tight election, Italy still has no government. While the deadlock may be broken this week, the battle has wounded Italy's political establishment.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Italy held an incredibly close election a couple of months ago and still does not have a new government. It seems the political deadlock may be broken this week, but the battle of the last couple of months has wounded Italy's political establishment, which did not have such a great image to begin with. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is covering this story from Rome. Hi, Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Hi there, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's taking so long?

POGGIOLI: Well, the elections did not produce a clear-cut winner. The parliament is divided into three blocs - the center-left Democrats, the conservative party of the notorious Silvio Berlusconi and a new anti-establishment party called the 5-Star Movement, led by a comedian, which gained popularity mostly through the Web.

None of them can govern alone but they can't stand each other so they can't govern together. They were also unable to agree on a candidate for the presidency as the incumbent Giorgio Napolitano's term was coming to an end. It's the president who asks a politician to try to form a government and then needs parliament's approval.

INSKEEP: Oh, this is like in Britain where the queen formally asks someone to form a government and that person becomes the prime minister if parliament approves. They have the same formality in Italy, but with a president who's supposed to be chosen here.

POGGIOLI: That's right. So in a desperate move, they begged Napolitano to stand again and he was elected to an unprecedented second term. In his inaugural speech yesterday, he read the MPs the riot act and he insisted they have to get over their petty rivalries and form a broad coalition. Otherwise, he threatened to resign.

INSKEEP: So is it possible that the comedian at the head of that 5-Star Movement, as you said it was described, could end up being prime minister of Italy?

POGGIOLI: Not likely because he's third behind with about 25 percent of the vote. Probably Napolitano will try to choose some established politician. And everybody agrees that the country and the economy - which is the third largest in Europe and in deep recession - urgently needs a functioning government.

But the nub is convincing the Democrat Party to work together in a coalition with their arch-rival Berlusconi who is tainted by scandal and is facing possible convictions in a couple of trials in coming weeks. Probably Napolitano will succeed in cobbling together a coalition, but the question is how long will it last and can it implement the needed economic and political reforms?

INSKEEP: Given Berlusconi's legal troubles, does he seriously want to be prime minister again?

POGGIOLI: No, I think he's pretty happy where he is but he wasn't to make sure that he has friendly people in the government. He knows he faces these possible convictions which could ban him from politics for life and he's hoping for some kind of a soft landing.

INSKEEP: So what does the Italian public think about all this?

POGGIOLI: Well, there are thousands of people who have been protesting against the prospect of a government with Berlusconi. The anger is particularly intense on the left and among the young. There's this big disconnect now between the political establishment overall and a large sector of the electorate - young, Internet-savvy people demanding new faces and new policies.

So what we see in Italy, the oldest political class in Europe and a redrawing of the political battle lines. The divisions used to be left versus right. Now it's becoming young versus old and the young are getting angrier every day.

INSKEEP: And when you say the oldest political establishment you're talking about the actual age of the politicians who are in top positions right now.

POGGIOLI: Let's say being 70 is considered young.

INSKEEP: OK, Sylvia. Thanks very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome.

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