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Byzantium-on-Tiber

In my last post, o Theophiloi, I hazarded the guess that the next President of the Republic of Italy, would be the former head of the Italian Communist Party, Massimo D'Alema.

Right party, wrong person.

On the fourth ballot this morning (requiring only a simple majority, in contrast to the two-thirds needed on the first three ballots), the eighty year old former Communist, Giorgio Napolitano, was chosen as Italy's eleventh president.

Napolitano (who is, indeed, from Naples) entered the Party at the age of twenty, and has had a distinguished career as politician and statesman. He is credited with bringing the Communist Party into the European Socialist mainstream and was, for a time, considered "heretical" by the ideologues among the Italian Communists. He is reputed to have been a post-Communist, before there was a post-Communism.

However, it is worrisome that despite evident personal regard, his candidacy failed to garner significant votes from the Right in this badly-divided nation. On the other hand the Left, which won the recent parliamentary elections by less than thirty thousand votes, put Napolitano forward with a "take him or leave him" attitude. This left no room for compromise (not an Italian strong point to begin with) or even much conversation. Hence the opportunity to offer a candidate who would enjoy overwhelming support from both blocs was lost.

Who blocked D'Alema's path to the Quirinale (the President's residence, former palace of the popes)? Dark speculation in the land of Machiavelli is a passion second only to soccer. Some contend that D'Alema was just too Communist for the Right to swallow, risking civil strife. Others suggest that Romano Prodi, the Prime Minister in pectore, perceived him to be a possible threat to his own power, and pulled the plug. (Excuse the out of control alliteration.)

Perhaps John Allen or Amy Welborn can cast light on the matter, but it won't be easy. In comparison, papal conclaves seem relatively simple and straighforward affairs. Whispers in the Loggia take note.

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Since you say that Prodi is "Prime Minister in pectore, I am tempted to ask cuiusnam in pectore? And so I do. But the really curious item here is that the Italians should elect a man of eighty years to a term of how many years? Seven? Five? Something about the triumph of hope over experience comes to mind. I knew that Italy had fewer young people than it needs to maintain its population, which is therefore aging, but I had also heard that Italians liked to retire before sixty. Or is that case that the job of President is less job and more dolce far niente?

Thanks for the questions, Joseph. Prodi is "in pectore," of the President-elect, because he cannot undertake to form a new government until he receives the official summons from the President of the Republic which won't take place until after the swearing in ceremony on Monday.The President's term is seven years, and the sprightly Napolitano has a good chance of completing it, if he continues with his nightly glass of Aglianico, the great red wine of the region around Naples.As for "dolce far niente:" that sounds like Italian for blogging!