Italy president chastises country's politicians

Apr 22, 2013, 1:50 PM EDT
ewly reelected President Giorgio Napolitano (C) speaks as President of Senate Pietro Grasso (R) and President of the Chamber of Deputies Laura Boldrini (L) listen during a joint session of parliament at Palazzo Montecitorio on April 22, 2013 in Rome, Italy.
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ROME (AP) — Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, sworn in Monday for an unprecedented second term at the age of 87, chastised lawmakers for their inadequate response to the country's economic crisis and urged them to form a new government "without delay."

While growing emotional over "the trust and affection I have seen grow toward me and the institution I represent," Napolitano also was stern in his rebuke of lawmakers for having failed to reform the flawed election law and for falling into political paralysis.

Napolitano told the parties that called him to serve again as president that they would be held accountable if they don't forge alliances and policies to pull the eurozone's third-largest economy out of recession and put it back on the path of financial reforms and growth.

"I have a duty to be frank. If I find myself again facing the deafness of those with whom I have clashed in the past, I will not hesitate to hold them accountable before the country," Napolitano said.

The strong remarks reflected his enhanced standing now that he has acceded to lawmakers' wishes for a second term after they failed in multiple votes to back a new figure for president. Napolitano, facing a seven-year term, said he would serve "until the situation in the country ... requires, and as long forces allow."

Stefano Folli, a political analyst at il Sole 24 Ore business daily said the remarks had a "clarity and hardness without precedent."

"This is the speech of a president well aware of not only his constitutional powers, but his political powers, in relation to a political class that has substantially failed," Folli said on Sky TG 24. "The president has an authority over and influence on politicians he has never had before."

Among his constitutional powers, the president can dissolve Parliament and tap a premier-designate to form a new government.

Napolitano made clear he wanted to see a new government formed as quickly as possible. He noted that the constitution requires a government that enjoys a majority in both houses, which no party can claim after elections two months ago — implying the necessity of a coalition. Consultations are to start again Tuesday.

Napolitano was re-elected Saturday after politicians failed to find a new presidential candidate who could win a majority of Parliament and regional voters. The divisive process resulted in the implosion of the center-left Democratic Party, whose leader resigned. It also galvanized the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which has campaigned on sending Italy's entire political class packing.

Investors were relieved by the re-election of the widely respected Napolitano. The main stock index in Milan closed up 1.66 percent, the strongest gain in Europe. Italy's government borrowing rates fell in bond markets, suggesting greater investor confidence in the country's financial future. The benchmark 10-year bond rate fell 0.13 percentage points to 4.05 percent.

"We can now celebrate the unblocking of the situation," said Edoardo Luini, a market analyst at Trading Room Roma. "It is not the best solution, but it was the only possible one — or at least the most convenient."

Analysts suggested Napolitano's hand is stronger now than when he first asked Democratic leader Pier Luigi Bersani to try to form a government. That initial overture came after Bersani's forces won control of the Chamber of Deputies, but not the Senate, in Feb. 24-25 elections. Bersani failed, leading to the current stalemate.

With a new seven-year mandate, Napolitano can dissolve Parliament and call new elections, something he couldn't do in the final months of his first term. It's a threat that could help him as he sounds out political parties to try to find a viable premier who can form a government and win a mandatory Parliamentary vote of confidence.

"The election of Napolitano is good news," Unicredit analyst Luca Cazzulani said in a statement. Napolitano has the skills and standing to mediate, he said, and his election "makes the timely formation of a new government more likely."

Bersani's center-left party, however, is in shambles after its members failed to rally behind Bersani's initial choices for president. Bersani as a result resigned as party leader, and there has been public disagreement among the leadership over who the party would like to see as premier.

Still, they closed ranks to re-elect Napolitano, along with the center-right People of Freedom party of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

The 5-Star Movement of comic Beppe Grillo denounced Napolitano's election as a "coup," and his lawmakers refused to applaud Napolitano in Parliament. Grillo's populist movement won 25 percent of the February vote, giving voice to Italians fed up with Italy's political class.