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Italy center-left leader Bersani to step down

Credibility undermined by failure to get his candidate named president

AFP-JIJI

Italy’s center-left leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, on Friday told members of his party that he will step down after failing to push through his preferred candidate for president.

Bersani, who has come under increasing pressure from his own party in recent weeks, said he will exit once a new president for the country has been elected.

A rebellion in the leftist ranks earlier Friday further undermined Bersani’s credibility as his nominee for president, former Prime Minister Romano Prodi, failed to secure enough votes in a secret parliamentary ballot. Until the vote, Prodi, a former European Commission chief who has twice inflicted election defeats on rightwing leader Silvio Berlusconi, had been considered the front-runner for the job, officially backed by the center-left.

But the right refused point-blank to support him — and then more than 100 leftist voters broke ranks, leaving him with just 395 votes, well short of the 504 needed to win.

A fifth round of voting was to take place early Saturday.

Political infighting that has marked the process so far has dimmed hopes that the political deadlock will end any time soon in the recession-hit country. Voting takes place in secret, meaning deputies are not obliged to toe a party line.

In comments to the ANSA news agency, Bersani conceded that his party alone could not get a candidate voted in.

Bersani had pinned his hopes on two-time leader Prodi, 73, a sharp about-face after an earlier bid to work with the right. The move, which infuriated his archrival, Berlusconi, was an attempt to limit the damage caused by the dramatic failure of the Democratic Party to get their first favored candidate — former Sen. Franco Marini — elected.

But some leftist lawmakers rebelled against the choice and for the center right, the choice of Prodi was unacceptable.

With Prodi defeated, it was not clear who the front-runner was anymore. Party members from across the political spectrum spent the hours before Saturday’s vote looking for a new candidate.