EThe election of the Italian President has taken up a full working week so far. The result was up to Friday evening after a total of six cumbersome ballots in a secret roll-call vote: nothing. On Thursday evening, Matteo Salvini of the right-wing national Lega had promised that the around 450 electors of the center-right alliance would no longer hand in “schede bianche”, empty ballot papers – unlike the days before. Instead, they would all write the name of a candidate, that of Senate President Maria Elisabetta Casellati, on the ballot paper for the first time. And actually vote for someone for the first time since the start of the voting marathon on Monday. Instead continued for anyone. “I trust that tomorrow will be a good day,” Salvini, party leader of the right-wing national Lega, predicted on Thursday evening.
But nothing came of it. Only 382 voters voted for the right-wing candidate on Friday morning. Almost 70 members of parliament and senators from the centre-right alliance must have voted for other candidates in the secret ballot. Or again for nobody: There were 406 abstentions. The 75-year-old politician from Silvio Berlusconi’s Christian Democratic party Forza Italia was even 123 votes short of the required absolute majority of 505 out of a total of 1009 electoral votes.
As many “empty” votes as in the first ballot
The poor performance of the conservative Catholic Senate President was not primarily a defeat for Casellati herself, but above all for former interior minister Salvini, the informal spokesman for the centre-right alliance. Because Salvini had not been able to keep the alliance together – he was even able to win enough votes from electors from the political center and from the circle of independents and non-affiliated parties to pave the way for the Senate President to move from the second highest to the highest state office.
On Friday afternoon there was another ballot, which, as expected, again led to no result. The three parties in the center-right alliance – alongside Lega and Forza Italia, Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist party “Brothers of Italy” – did not put their failed candidate Casellati back in the running. But gave back “schede bianche”. The parties on the left also abstained, so that there were about as many “blank” votes in the last round of the working week as there were in the first round on Monday. President Sergio Mattarella, who left office on February 3, received the most votes (336) in the sixth ballot, although he has been asserting for weeks that he will not be available for a second term of seven years. There were also 445 abstentions.
Unstable and temporary alliances
Few Italians are likely to have been surprised by the picture that the political class gave during the five-day laborious attempt to hold a presidential election. Trapped in their self-referential parallel world, accompanied at every turn by hordes of journalists, the people’s representatives were eagerly weaving intrigues and schemes. And they complained in unison to the journalists that in view of the pandemic, the energy crisis and the risk of war, now is not the time to spin intrigues. And then, in back rooms, coffee bars and restaurants, they immediately plotted the next thing.
In the political balance sheet, none of the key players survived the five election days with six votes unscathed. What Salvini on the right was unable to do, the social democratic party leader Enrico Letta and Giuseppe Conte of the left-wing populist Five Star Movement on the left were just as unsuccessful: keeping their alliance together. Neither camp could impose its will or candidate on the other. From the left to the center to the right, the political landscape is so jagged that at best unstable and temporary alliances can come about.
High time for a new head of state
The internal disagreement between the two camps is compounded by the dissent among the individual political forces, which have actually been united in the coalition of national unity under Prime Minister Mario Draghi since February 2021. This, in turn, weighs heavily on Draghi, whose authority does not extend beyond the cabinet table. As soon as the politicians of the coalition parties, who together hold four-fifths of the mandates in both chambers, no longer sit together in the head of government’s office, the old trench warfare breaks out again.
The party and alliance leaders met for further talks on Friday evening. For this Saturday, when two more ballots are to take place, some were confident. Others expressed skepticism. And everyone said it was high time to collectively elect a new head of state.