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AnsaMed - April 5, 2013

by Paulo Virgo

Support appears to be swelling for former European commissioner Emma Bonino to become Italy's first woman president.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitanòs seven-year term ends on May 15 and parties are wrangling about a successor after February's inconclusive general election.

But Bonino, a leading member of the small Radical party that promotes economic and social liberalism and champions human-rights issues, has won support from figures on both the left and right of Italy's political spectrum.

"I'd very much like Emma Bonino to be president, I'd feel protected by a woman like her, even though some of her positions are distant from mine," former equal opportunities minister Mara Carfagna, an MP for ex-premier Silvio Berlusconìs People of Freedom (PdL) party, told Sky television.

"It would be a great symbol of change".

Renato Brunetta, the PdL's House whip, subsequently stressed that Carfagna was expressing her personal opinion, and not the position of her party. Another PdL MP, Michaela Biancofiore, said that "the country is ready for a woman at the Quirinale (presidential palace) and Emma Boninòs name is the most suitable", although other members of the party disagreed.

But Bonino, who served as the European commissioner for health and consumer protection from 1995 to 1999 after being nominated by Berlusconi, also won backing from the centre left.

"I think that the time has come to elect a woman at the Quirinale," said Alessia Mosca, an MP for the main centre-left Democratic Party.

"Our country has lots of female figures who are more than capable of being head of state. I'm thinking of Emma Bonino and of other names that have been mentioned". Bonino gained a good international international reputation for her human rights work while she was European commissioner in a role that also included overseeing the EC's department for overseas aid and civil protection. The 65-year-old served as European affairs and international trade minister in Romano Prodìs 2006-2008 government too. The Radical party lobbied for her to become head of state in 1999, saying she was "the right man", before Carlo Azeglio Ciampi was elected president. In February outgoing Premier Mario Monti, whose Civil Choice party performed disappointingly in the election, said he would be happy for Bonino to become president. Among the other names touted have been ex-premiers Prodi and Giuliano Amato but both are from the centre left and might be unacceptable to Berlusconi who has already accused the PD of trying to "occupy" top institutional posts after electing parliament's two Speakers.

Pundits say ex-Senate Speaker Franco Marino, a more centrist centre-left figure, would be more acceptable to Berlusconi, who has floated long-time advisor and institutional fixer Gianni Letta.

Both Letta and Berlusconi himself, whose candidacy has been advanced by the PdL, are unacceptable to the PD.

M5S has opened an online poll to suggest candidates and has already suggested humanitarian war-zone doctor Gino Strada.

Bookmakers do not seem to think the support expressed for Bonino is sufficient for her to win the day. Prodi was given 1.65 odds by bettings agency Bet2875, followed closely by Letta with odds of 1.85. Bonino was given much longer odds of 7.30. Voting for the president will be by the 945 members of the two houses of parliament plus regional representatives, making a total of 1007.

A two-thirds majority is needed for the first three votes, and then a simple majority.

Presidents, who represent national unity and have the power to help governments form and vet laws, are usually expected to be voted by a broad majority.

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