Renzi's pick for Italian president in election could cost support for his reform agenda

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An unidentified lawmaker casts his vote at the lower chamber during a voting session for the election of the new Italian President in Rome, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. Lawmakers failed to elect a new Italian president Thursday in balloting that tests Premier Matteo Renzi's ability to rally his fractured party behind a candidate that is also acceptable to opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi, whose support he has courted for the government's ambitious reform agenda. Even as the names on the hand-written ballots from the 1,009 electors were still being read aloud, it was clear that, as expected, no candidate had come remotely close to the two-thirds majority needed to elect a new head of state in the first three rounds. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)


Former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano casts his vote at the lower chamber during a voting session for the election of the new Italian President in Rome, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. Lawmakers failed to elect a new Italian president Thursday in balloting that tests Premier Matteo Renzi's ability to rally his fractured party behind a candidate that is also acceptable to opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi, whose support he has courted for the government's ambitious reform agenda. Even as the names on the hand-written ballots from the 1,009 electors were still being read aloud, it was clear that, as expected, no candidate had come remotely close to the two-thirds majority needed to elect a new head of state in the first three rounds. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)


ROME — Italian lawmakers failed on Friday for a second time to come even close to a consensus to electing the country's new president, a contest which could complicate Premier Matteo Renzi's pursuit of government reforms.

They were due to try again in the afternoon. Chances of victory improve on Saturday, when only a simple majority is needed.

Renzi has urged his Democrats to vote for Sergio Mattarella, a constitutional court justice, for the post of head of state.

But the choice angered opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi's center-right forces. Decades ago, Mattarella raised conflict-of-interest concerns after the media mogul jumped into politics.

Mattarella also resigned a ministry post, in 1990, to protest legislation that helped Berlusconi transform his fledgling business of local TV channels into a media empire including Italy's three main private TV networks.

The risk for Renzi is that Berlusconi might now renege on promises to back the premier on electoral reforms aimed at making governments more stable.

Exactly a year ago, Renzi cut a deal with archrival Berlusconi. Risking alienation from party hardliners who include former Communists, Renzi got crucial backing from the former three-time premier for elusive electoral reforms.

Berlusconi, forced out of the Senate by a tax fraud conviction, has been trying to stay influential in politics. Berlusconi's camp had hoped Renzi would propose a presidential candidate acceptable to the media mogul.

"It's evident that the reforms have become more complicated," because of the choice of Mattarella, said Nunzia De Girolamo, a former leader in Berlusconi's fold who now supports Renzi's government.

Backed by Berlusconi's Forza Italia lawmakers, electoral reform was approved by the Senate this week and now awaits passage in Parliament's lower chamber.


Follow Frances D'Emilio on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/fdemilio

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