Correspondent in Rome
It was also concluded today with black smoke the fourth ballot for the election of the President of the Republic of Italy. In the first three it was necessary to have a qualified majority of two thirds of the 1,009 voters. In this fourth ballot, an absolute majority (505 votes) was sufficient to be elected successor to the Head of State, Sergio Mattarella, whose seven-year term ends on February 3.
This Thursday was originally supposed to be the day of truth, but the negotiations have completely stalled. The center right abstained and did not deposit the ballot in the polls. The center left voted blank (261). From the leaders of the 5 Star Movement came the indication of the blank vote, but also leaving the possibility of expressing oneself with freedom of conscience.
In yesterday’s vote, the most striking note was the high number of votes obtained by President Sergio Mattarella, despite the fact that he has repeatedly reiterated that he does not want to be re-elected. Yesterday he obtained 166 votes (on Wednesday there were 125), which represents around 30% of the ballots deposited in the ballot box. The vote for Mattarella, despite his rejection of re-election, has a double meaning: On the one hand, the recognition of an esteemed president, with very high popularity for the great management he carried out during his term; therefore, many want its continuity. On the other hand, by voting for Mattarella, many voters show their dissent and protest against party leaders, unable to find a consensus candidate. A good part of the votes received by Mattarella came from the 5 Star Movement.
The possibility of a reelection of Mattarella is remote. These days, from the Quirinal Palace, photos with the president’s moving boxes have been sent to the media, who recently rented an apartment in Rome to move his residence there from February 3. He could only accept his continuance at the Quirinal if parliament was unable to find a successor and begged him to continue as head of state. Many parties consider that it would be the best solution, because would allow the continuity of Mario Draghi as prime minister. Political stability and the continuity of the reforms by the Draghi government, which enjoys great international prestige and in the financial markets, would thus be guaranteed. But, at the same time, Mattarella’s re-election would mean the failure of the Italian political class, by showing its inability to come to an agreement to elect a President of the Republic. In short, the continuity of Sergio Mattarella is today the ‘extreme ratio’.
Throughout the afternoon, the political parties and coalitions will continue their negotiations to choose a candidate. Political fragmentation is enormous. Tomorrow’s vote could be decisive. The leader of the League has expressed his optimism: “Within tomorrow (Friday), we will have a new president,” he predicted. But if in that fifth ballot there were new black smoke, the nervousness that is already perceived in parliament would increase more ostensibly.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi follows in the presidential race, although various parties prefer that he continue as head of government. The two main leaders engaged in the search for a candidate are Enrico Letta, leader of the Democratic Party, the main force of the center left, and Matteo Salvini, secretary of the League, the first party of the center right. Letta has always defended Draghi’s transfer from the Chigi Palace, the seat of government, to the Quirinal.
Instead, Matteo Salvini wants Draghi to continue as prime minister. In the last two days, both have tried look for a candidate of consensus prestige, a profile that could be framed as a ‘technician’. But Mateo Salvini finds himself increasingly criticized in his own party, with voices suggesting that the best possible coach for the Quirinal is precisely Mario Draghi. This is the opinion, for example, of the deputy Giancarlo Giorgetti, Minister of Economic Development, very close to Salvini. Minister Giorgetti firmly supports Draghi’s candidacy for the Quirinal.
Draghi’s candidacy would be a last resort given the inability of the coalitions to agree on a consensus candidate. In any case, attempts are still being made to search for names with the technical or institutional label, to avoid the objections that are made to some names of politicians, such as the centrist Pierferdinando Casini. Among those new last-minute names is the diplomat Elisabetta Belloni, 63 years old, director of the Department of the Department of Information (the secret services), named after Mario Draghi.
He is a transversal personality, highly esteemed by all the political parties, who could be a candidate for the presidency of the Republic or prime minister. But her position as head of the secret services is seen by some parliamentarians as an obstacle to moving to the Quirinal or Chigi Palace.
another possible woman the Minister of Justice, Marta Cartabia, considered from the technical area for having been a magistrate of the Constitutional Court. As a technician, Professor Sabino Cassese, former magistrate of the Constitutional Court, a prestigious jurist, is also considered. Despite his 86 years, he is available. When asked if he was a candidate for the Quirinal, he replied: “Why not?”
The center-right is today the coalition with the relative majority in parliament, but it appears disunited, especially after the withdrawal last Saturday of the leader of Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi, who was admitted that day to a Milan hospital for a medical check-up. Il Cavaliere, who is still hospitalized, supports Draghi’s continuation as prime minister. The two spoke by phone yesterday. Berlusconi, who supported Draghi to accede to the presidency of the Italian and European Central Banks, could still influence the president of the European Central Bank to accede to the Quirinal. It is one more fact to take into account in the complicated negotiations for the presidential election, a complete puzzle with no easy solution in sight.