Italian president to leave office

Napolitano2015Italian President Giorgio Napolitano confirmed on January First that he will be resigning his office later this month.  In April, 2013, the 89-year old  Head of State reluctantly agreed to stay on for a second term when, after four unsuccessful ballots, Italy’s wrangling political parties were unable to agree on a successor. It was the first time in Italian postwar history that a President had been asked to stay on for a second seven-year term although it was clear from the start, because of Mr. Napolitano’s age, that he would not stay in office for another entire term, seven years.

The resignation is expected to come sometime after January 13 when Italy’s six-month stint at the presidency of the European Union expires and could easily set off a new round of political squabbling. All sorts of names have been floated but one hat that will not be tossed into the ring by anyone is that of Silvio Berlusconi. It is known that ending his career as President of the Republic was once Berlusconi’s dream. But his conviction for tax fraud and other accusations of criminal behavior that are still pending have effectively put an end to any hopes of this sort he might once have nurtured.

In 2013, Italy’s largest political party, the Democratic Party, of which current Premier Matteo Renzi is a member, ought to have been able to push through its candidate for president, former premier Romano Prodi, but a split within the party prevented this from happening. This time around most people within the PD, including Renzi, are saying they prefer for the Italian Republic’s 12th president, a person who is above the political fray and who can marshal broad support. If this happens (although at present it is hard to imagine who that might be), it should make it easier for Renzi to get support from other groups for his vast program of proposed reforms.

According to the Italian Constitution, the President of the Republic, who is elected by Parliament by secret ballot, in a joint session of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, is by no means a total figurehead. He names the prime minister and can dissolve parliament in the event of a political crisis and call new elections. His other functions and his position as the de fact head of the Supreme Magistrates Council means he has significant influence and moral suasion.

Napolitano, who is in fact from Napoli (Naples),  is a former communist who was a leading member of the less-radical part of the PCI, once the largest communist party in Western Europe. He has been a member of parliament representing  first the Communists and  later its successive derivations since 1953 and in the 1990s was, first, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies and, subsequently, Minister of the Interior (police). By the time he was elected President, most Italians had either forgotten he had been a communist or didn’t care. As president, Napolitano dealt with a variety of governments including those headed by Berlusconi, economist Mario Monti, and Renzi’s predecessor, Enrico Letta.

In his 22-minute speech to the nation on New Year’s Day, Napolitano  urged the nation as a whole – from politicians to common citizens – to recover its moral compass in the fight against corruption.
“Political stability and institutional continuity are of the essence in conquering the serious pathologies our country is afflicted with….beginning with organized crime, and corruption that has proven capable of insinuating itself into every fold of our society and our institutions, finding cohorts and accomplices on high,” Napolitano said.
The fight against corruption and criminality must be a collective one, the president added.
“And we must do it together – civil society, the State, and all the political forces with no exceptions at all. Only by reconquering intangible moral values will be politics be able to earn back it decision-making functions,” Napolitano said.
He also pointed to the need to stick to the path of reform and to fight youth unemployment, which currently is over 40% in Italy.
“The more we spread a sense of responsibility, of duty, of law and of the Constitution – that is, a sense of the Nation – the more we can create that climate of consciousness and collective mobilization that animated our post-war reconstruction,” said Napolitano, who is the longest-serving president in the history of  the Italian republic.



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