Italy’s newly elected lawmakers chose speakers of the two legislative chambers Saturday, bringing a whiff of renewal to the country’s parliament by voting in two figures who are widely respected and haven’t been members of parliament before.
But the tortured vote underscores how hard it will be to form the parliamentary backing needed to form a new government after last month’s inconclusive general elections.
Choosing speakers of the country’s two legislative bodies is traditionally the first thing on the agenda after parliamentary elections here. The election of those two figures usually paves the way for the subsequent formation of a government.
This time around, though, it isn’t a foregone conclusion. If a government isn’t formed, Italy could go back to elections, perhaps as early as late June. And while Italy may not need to make any more tough budget-squeezing moves this year, any new administration will be under heavy pressure to stoke job creation and growth as Italy’s economy has been contracting for almost two years now.
Italy’s center-left Democratic Party and its political partners ostensibly won the country’s elections last month, but they only gained enough votes to get a substantial majority of seats in the lower house—Chamber of Deputies—and not the upper house Senate. Governments need the clear backing of both chambers to pass legislation and survive.
On Saturday, two politicians from the center-left coalition won enough votes to make it as speakers of the lower and upper houses.
Laura Boldrini, formerly the spokesperson in Italy for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, will be the speaker of the lower house.
Piero Grasso, formerly the country’s chief anti-Mafia prosecutor, will be president of the Senate after getting enough votes in the upper house. Mr. Grasso got 14 more votes than the center-left has seats, suggesting he snatched some votes from the Democratic Party’s rivals.
But that doesn’t mean that the Democratic Party and its allies suddenly have enough of a majority to govern in the Senate. That was underscored by a note issued by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti‘s Civic Choice party. Mr. Monti’s party members issued blank votes during the voting. In the statement, the party said the selection of the two speakers of the Chamber and Senate were “not decisive” in Italy’s quest for a path out of its growth and public debt crisis.
Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the center-right coalition, left a Milan hospital to come to Rome to vote for his party’s candidate. But he, too, said upon entering the Senate on Saturday, that the vote for the speakers “had no meaning whatsoever.”
“It looks like we’re heading for a new election in late June,” said Rocco Buttiglione, a veteran Christian Democrat senator who is part of Mr. Monti’s group. He said Italy risked a “Weimar situation” without a stable majority.
Despite the confused political situation, President Giorgio Napolitano issued a statement Saturday saying that on March 20, he would begin consultations with political parties aimed at understanding whether a government can be formed and win the confidence votes in both chambers that are needed for any new administration to actually take office.
If a government is formed, the first of those confidence votes is in the lower house, where Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani and his coalition allies have the majority. In the Senate, however, Mr. Bersani’s coalition has only 123 out of 315 Senate seats.
Securing an outright majority in the Senate would require a stable alliance with the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, which has 54 senators after winning a quarter of the national vote, or with Mr. Berlusconi, whose ranks count 117 senators despite a similar share of last month’s ballots.
There is the outside option of a so-called minority government, in which a new administration wins a confidence vote in the Senate, but only when some senators walk out in order to lower the quorum. But such a scenario would essentially leave the eventual new government with a gun to its head whenever it has to pass a bill.
Mr. Napolitano also could be able to organize another government of technocrats, along the lines of the outgoing administration of Mr. Monti. But the main parties are averse to such a compromise as it would likely hand votes to the Five-Star Movement founded by former comedian Beppe Grillo. Mr. Grillo was so successful in last month’s election because he grabbed votes from citizens fed up with the political castes and government mashups that have dominated Italy for the past two decades.
A poll released Friday by the SWG institute for state broadcaster RAI indicated that support for the Five-Star Movement has shot up in the two weeks since the general elections, and it would now win 30% of a national vote—well ahead of Mr. Bersani’s party at 25% and Mr. Berlusconi’s party at 23.3%.