Italian opposition parties were fomenting anti-government sentiment ahead of President Giorgio Napolitano's address marking the end of 2013, a tumultuous year in national politics that witnessed inconclusive national elections, months of parliamentary deadlock, and the formation of an unprecedented left-right coalition that defied repeated threats of upheaval and survived to the New Year.
The address is Napolitano's eighth on this day, a first for an Italian president after the 88-year-old was reluctantly called back to office at the end of his seven-year term to help resolve a government stalemate in April. The loudest anti-government critic Tuesday was comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), who is staging his own online year-end address, airing simultaneously with Napolitano's at 8:30 local time, in protest. "You don't question the word of the Lord when his name is Napolitano," wrote Grillo in a mock-messianic tone on his blog, the main platform for his Internet-based movement that forced a virtual threeway tie in February national elections between the centre right of Silvio Berlusconi and the centre left, leading to government gridlock. Grillo and the M5S have denounced Napolitano as "undemocratic" in helping former premier Mario Monti take the helm of an emergency technocrat government in November 2011, when Berlusconi's third government collapsed with Italy looking in danger of suffering a Greek-style financial meltdown.
Napolitano also worked hard to create Premier Enrico Letta's left-right coalition government in April to end two months of deadlock following February's inconclusive general election.
Furthermore, Grillo has charged that the position of Napolitano, who was re-elected president by parliament a week before Letta's government was sworn in, is no longer legitimate, and has vowed to campaign for the president's impeachment in 2014.
His argument is based on the fact that the Constitutional Court recently declared illegitimate the election law that voted in the current parliament.
Grillo predicted on his blog that Napolitano's traditional New Year's Eve message will be his last, a prelude to a "last supper" his movement hopes awaits "this political class" in 2014. Meanwhile Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia party was encouraging supporters to boycott Napolitano's address. There has been some speculation that Forza Italia, which last month pulled its support from Letta's executive, could vote in favour of Napolitano being impeached.
Berlusconi's lawmakers voted in favour of Napolitano, a former member of the Communist Party, becoming the first Italian president to be re-elected this year.
But the three-time premier and his party have been highly critical of him after he refused to grant Berlusconi a pardon after a tax-fraud conviction was upheld by the supreme court in August, making it binding.
Napolitano said he could only consider a pardon if a formal request were made, something that Berlusconi, who has since been stripped of his seat in parliament because of the conviction, has thus far refused to do.
The president was expected to use the address Tuesday to call once again for badly needed institutional reforms, including a new electoral law after the former law was struck down earlier this month. Other institutional reforms the government is weighing include stripping the Senate of its equal lawmaking status with the House. "Few now doubt that, in strict compliance with the principles enshrined in the Constitution, we must put an end to the endemic weakness that in the past has characterized the fate of too many governments," Napolitano said two weeks ago before the diplomatic corps.