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Italy election opens door to new govt

The re-election of Giorgio Napolitano raises the prospect putting an end to Italy’s political stalemate.

Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano delivers a speech on March 22, 2013 at the Quirinale presidential palace in Rome. Picture: AFP

ROME - The re-election of Italy's president has raised the prospect of an end to the two months of political stalemate that have followed the general election, with a move to form a government foreseen within days.

A broad agreement between traditional political groups on the left and right to re-elect Giorgio Napolitano handed the 87-year-old the leverage to pressure opposing parties to form a government or face a snap election.

The February election split parliament between the centre-left, the centre-right, and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, requiring at least two of them to forge an alliance to create a workable majority in parliament.

"It's clear that within the week an agreement on a government will be reached," said Rocco Buttiglione, a high-ranking member of the centrist Civic Choice group led by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti. "Napolitano is very strong right now and the parties are rather impotent."

Any government will be under pressure to address popular frustration with a prolonged recession in the euro zone's third-largest economy, which has scarcely grown in 20 years and is grappling with the worst unemployment in decades.

Napolitano, the first president in Italy's history to be asked to serve a second term, will likely spell out his strategy when he addresses parliament on Monday, but he made it clear before being re-elected that he favoured the formation of a government to a potentially destabilising new vote.

A source in the presidential palace told Reuters Napolitano could either hold a quick round of consultations starting on Tuesday or skip them altogether because he has already sounded out party leaders officially twice since the deadlock began.

Napolitano could ask a political figure - instead of a technocrat like Monti - to try to form a government as soon as Tuesday, and the source said the president's re-election meant that there was a clear intent to form a government rather than head toward another election.

But the idea of a right-left government was strongly criticised on Sunday by the leader of the 5-Star Movement, Beppe Grillo, who described the agreement to elect Napolitano as a desperate attempt to retain power by a discredited elite.

The 5-Star Movement had called on the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) to back its candidate for president, left-wing academic Stefano Rodota. The PD instead joined centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi and Monti to support Napolitano.

Grillo, whose vow to kick out the old guard allowed his 5-Star Movement to win one in four votes in its first national election, called the presidential vote "a cunning little institutional coup".

Thousands of 5-Star Movement supporters gathered on Sunday at a rally to protest Napolitano's win, and then marched through Rome, some holding signs that read: "Napolitano is not our president".

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