thetimes.co.uk/ Renzi outwits rivals to get the president he wanted

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SHAFAQNA – Italy elected its first Sicilian president yesterday — a judge whose brother was murdered by the mafia.The appointment of Sergio Mattarella was hailed yesterday as a triumph for Matteo Renzi, the prime minister, who is seen to have consolidated his hold over his own Democratic party.

While the role of Italian president is mainly a ceremonial role, he does have the power to appoint a prime minister. His predecessor Giorgio Napolitano appointed five during his near nine-year tenure.

Il Fatto Quotidiano, normally critical of the prime minister, described Mr Renzi as “a political giant” compared to “the gnomes who tried to oppose him and who were rapidly liquidated”.

His election also created a bitter feud in Italy’s main opposition party, Forza Italia, which is led by Silvio Berlusconi. Mr Mattarella is well known for his hostility to Mr Berlusconi, having resigned as a minister in protest at government measures that allowed the billionaire’s media empire to expand.

While Mr Berlusconi insists that he bears no animosity towards Mr Mattarella, he still instructed his Forza Italia politicians to cast blank ballots in Saturday’s vote. He was dismayed to find that dozens defied him to vote for the new president, exposing a deep rift.

The appointment marks the latest triumph for Mr Renzi, who has pushed through key electoral reforms designed to give more power to leading parties and reduce the number of smaller ones.

Mr Mattarella, a 73-year-old former Christian Democrat politician, won an emphatic endorsement from parliament on Saturday, with 665 grand electors supporting him, 160 more than the simple majority required from the fourth round of voting.

The choice of the austere lawyer is known for his efforts to moralise the Sicilian Christian Democrat party.

Mr Renzi’s constitutional reforms depend on support from Forza Italia, while day-to-day government needs the backing of the small New Centre Right party. Both parties have smarted at the way in which the prime minister has outflanked them to get his preferred candidate into the presidency.

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