Chaos and political uncertainty before the election of the president of Italy


Correspondent in Rome

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Chaos prevails in Italian politics in the open race to the Quirinal Palace. In a few hours, on Monday afternoon, the first voting begins in a joint session of the Congress and the Senate, to designate the successor of Sergio Mattarella, who ends his seven-year term as President of the Republic on February 3. The voters are 1009 (630 deputies, 315 senators and 58 regional delegates). Never in recent decades has the election of the Head of State been surrounded by so much uncertainty and expectation, because the fate of the Government of Mario Draghi, at a particularly delicate moment for the immediate future of the country, due to the Covid emergency and the management of the Reconstruction plan, with investments of more than 200,000 million euros until 2026.

The leader of Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi, whose candidacy for the presidency of the Republic created a strong debate in recent weeks, threw in the towel on Saturday afternoon. In a statement, Il Cavaliere announced to his center-right allies that he was resigning out of “national responsibility,” in the name of the unity of the country. “I verified the existence of sufficient numbers for the election,” said Berlusconi, adding that he was withdrawing “to avoid controversies and lacerations that the nation cannot afford today.”

In reality, Berlusconi did not have enough support. Not even his center-right allies were convinced of his candidacy, because, given Berlusconi’s past, his candidacy was divisive and somewhat surreal. Because, Matteo Salvini, Secretary of the League, and Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy, had their own plans and candidates. This made Berlusconi extremely bitter. This explains the controversial message sent by his girlfriend Marta Fascina, 32, a deputy for Forza Italia, to the party’s Whatsapp: “As always, our president turns out to be a giant immersed in a theater of insignificant, irrelevant and fleeting personalities!” wrote the companion of the Cavaliere.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi – Afp

It was clear that the owner of the Fininvest empire, the fifth richest man in Italy, according to Forbes magazine, did not have enough numbers. But in addition to statistics, age (the presidential term would have ended at 92) and the many ailments have played a relevant role. He was convinced to resign by his own family, in particular his eldest daughter Marina, president of Fininvest, with whom he held a conversation on Saturday afternoon. For health reasonsBerlusconi was not present at the telematic meeting with his allies. For a couple of days, the Cavaliere has been hospitalized at the San Rafael hospital in Milan: “It’s nothing serious, just a routine check-up,” as confirmed by his Forza Italia party.

A very convoluted skein

Berlusconi’s resignation does not clear the political landscape. The skein has become more entangled if possible. If the Cavaliere cries to see that his dream has vanished, the prime minister, Mario Draghi, who until now was the favorite candidate, does not laugh. His race for the head of state has been complicated, because several political leaders, including Silvio Berlusconi, have called for the former president of the European Central Bank continues as head of government. In any case, if Draghi moves from the Chigi palace to the Quirinal, it will be necessary to find a replacement for him in the government with a stable majority, which is not an easy task.

The negotiations between the parties are continuous, but it transcends little. The election to the Quirinal Palace, which was the residence of 30 popes until 1870, could be compared, saving the distances, to a conclave. Just as the “papables” cardinals maintain the utmost discretion so as not to be burned out in the race for the pontifical throne, the same is true of the “quirinables.” to the usual lack of transparency for this election, because many meetings and negotiations are secret, a determining factor is added: the chaos and division between the political forces and the fear of the majority of parliamentarians to lose their position if there is an early election.

Currently, the seats in parliament are 945, but 345 will be eliminated in the next legislature: 400 deputies and 200 senators will remain. Practically two thirds of the current parliamentarians will not be re-elected. Hence, they do not want an electoral advance, because they need to keep their seat until at least September to collect the parliamentary pension. This adds more uncertainty, because several party leaders do not even control their own parliamentarians, whose vote will be marked by their own interests, leaning towards a president who can guarantee them that the legislature reaches its end, in the spring of 2023.

three scenarios

Taking into account the political chaos and uncertainty in this election of the President of the Republic, at least three possible scenarios are presented. The first hypothesis would be a head of state elected by the current majority of the national unity government, that is, all the parties, with the exception of the Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni. The ideal candidate in this case would be Mario Draghi, which is mostly supported by the left. The former president of the ECB continues to be the candidate with the most weight and the favorite, as he is an indisputable figure and the one with the greatest international prestige. But Draghi’s election should be accompanied, as some parties propose, by a legislature pact, so that there are no elections until the end of the legislature, within 14 months.

The second scenario would be the election of a center-right candidate. If this coalition confirms its doubts about the former president of the ECB, because it wants Draghi to continue as head of government, one of its three candidates could be chosen, with the support of some votes from the center left. Se talks about three names that the center right could present: the current president of the Senate, Elisabetta Alberti Cassellati, 75, of Forza Italia; the philosopher Marcello Pera (78), former president of the Senate, and Pierferdinando Casini (66), former president of the Chamber of Deputies. Casini has a long history as a centrist Christian Democrat, although he is currently an elected senator from the left-wing Democratic Party. He is surely the politician with the most possibilities, because his candidacy is transversal.

Enrico Letta, leader of the Democratic Party, affirms that they will not vote for a center-right candidate, but precisely Pierferdinando Casini could be considered a cross-cutting candidate for the two coalitions. To open a gap, and as a leading candidate in the first ballot, the PD has made it known that the center-left, meeting on Sunday morning, could propose as a candidate the name of the former minister and founder of the community of Sant’Egidio, Andrea Ricciardi, 72 years old, historian and writer, expert on Catholic Church issues.

The third scenario is the reelection of the current president Sergio Mattarella, 80 years old, although he has reiterated on numerous occasions that he does not want to continue in the Quirinal and has already said goodbye to all the representatives of the institutions. But many parliamentarians ask for its continuity, even for a short period, until the next elections, thus facilitating an eventual transfer of Mario Draghi from the head of government to that of State.

Failure of a political class

At stake is the international stability and credibility that Mario Draghi has earned in almost a year as Chief Executive, achieving notable success in the fight against the pandemic and obtaining growth of 6.3% in Gross Domestic Product, the highest of Europe, after two decades of economic stagnation. But until now, with few exceptions, Italian politicians have devoted themselves in recent months to pursuing their short-term objectives and interests, without having matured a key decision for the immediate future of the country. This highlights a certain failure of the policy. The Italians distrust their politicians, as reflected in the great abstentionism at the polls. A week ago, in the election of a candidate for the Congress in Rome, only 11% of those registered voted.

Every day there will be an election in the Congress of Deputies, in a joint session of both chambers. In the first three votes, a two-thirds majority is required to be elected President of the Republic. From the fourth vote, an absolute majority, half plus one, is sufficient. 505 votes would be necessary. Except for a miracle, it can be assumed that at least until Thursday, in the fourth vote, there will be no new president. Perhaps, as happens at the beginning of a conclave in the Sistine Chapel, someone will also invoke in parliament the song that shakes the cardinals, the ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’, so that the Spirit turns on the light in the minds of the parliamentarians .

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