Italian president chastises country's politicians

Italy's Napolitano, back as president, chastises lawmakers for inadequate response to crisis

Associated Press
Italian president chastises country's politicians
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Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, flanked by the chairman of the Lower House Laura Boldrini, left, and the chairman of the Senate Pietro Grasso, right, joins the applause of lawmakers after delivering his speech at the lower chamber in Rome, Monday, April 22, 2013. President Giorgio Napolitano headed Monday into his unprecedented second term with the daunting task of trying to find a candidate who can form a government two months after national elections left Italy with no clear winner and an increasingly discredited political class. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

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 "as long as the situation in the country ... requires, and strength allows me."

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 wants to send the political class packing and had backed a constitutional expert with center-left credentials for the presidency.

Voter malaise was evident in regional elections Sunday and Monday in northeastern Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Voter turnout declined to 50 percent from 72 percent in the last regional election. The Democratic Party's Debora Serracchiani led the race for regional president, but said the low turnout "imposes the obligation of reflection."

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 further proof of collusion among the traditional parties. His lawmakers refused to applaud Napolitano in Parliament. Grillo's populist movement won a quarter of the February vote, giving voice to Italians fed up with Italy's political class.

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Barry reported from Milan.

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