Six days of voting filled with bickering, confusion and behind-the-scenes maneuvering left Italy’s government leadership exactly where it was ahead of this week’s presidential election.
President Sergio Mattarella, the 80-year-old head of state, was re-elected on Saturday evening for a new term he did not want but seemed almost certain to accept in order to avoid political chaos.
He was due to complete his seven-year term on February 3 and he has given every indication he wants to retire. He is said to have signed a lease on a modest apartment in Rome with a view to leaving the Quirinal Palace – the sprawling 1,200-room presidential residence in Rome.
Mario Draghi, the unelected prime minister who coveted Mr Mattarella’s job, did not receive cross-party endorsement for his own presidential bid, in part because many parties wanted him to remain in office. his current position. He will remain at the head of the government.
But how long the status quo will last is unknown. The unruly electoral process, in which more than 1,000 parliamentarians and a few regional representatives voted in eight secret ballots starting Monday, has left deep divisions between the main center-right and center-left parties, raising questions about the sustainability of the government opposition. party unity.
Political analyst Francesco Galietti, managing director of Rome-based Policy Sonar, said in a note on Saturday that the status quo does not necessarily mean stability.
“Everyone assumes that with Mattarella again as president and Draghi as prime minister, the situation will remain as it is,” he said. “But it’s probably not that simple. We need to understand if the key ingredient of Draghi’s government, a large multi-party majority, will still be there in a few days.
Mr. Mattarella, a Sicilian lawyer whose older brother was murdered by the Mafia in 1980, is a widely respected personality known for his calm, dignified but decisive style. The role of Italian presidents is largely ceremonial, but becomes crucial in times of crisis. They can appoint prime ministers and approve or veto cabinet ministers, as Mr Mattarella did in 2018, when he vetoed the appointment of anti-EU populist Paolo Savona as minister of foreign affairs. finance and economy.
Mr Mattarella emerged as the most palatable compromise candidate at the weekend, after several candidates put forward by parties left and right failed to gain ground.
Some of them were unlikely and distant names. One was the head of the Italian secret service. Another was Silvio Berlusconi, the four-time former prime minister infamous for his “bunga bunga” sex parties and conviction for tax evasion. Initially supported by some of the main right-wing parties, he withdrew his candidacy just before the start of the elections, but still won some votes.
On Saturday morning, Mr. Draghi, apparently realizing that the string of inconclusive ballots was becoming a national and international embarrassment, reportedly asked Mr. Mattarella to stay and asked the parties of his unity government to negotiate a deal for the ‘approve. On the seventh ballot on Saturday morning, Mr Mattarella was close to being re-elected, winning 387 votes, well ahead of the rest of the pack and most of the way to the required simple majority of 505 votes. On the eighth and final vote, he easily cleared the bar.
Keeping Mr Mattarella and Mr Draghi in place allows Italy to avoid a snap election – the current parliament is due to expire by mid-2023 – for which most parties are unprepared, and which could cost many parliamentarians their jobs and their retirement. The status quo theoretically extends the stability that had characterized Mr. Draghi’s government since Mr. Mattarella appointed him prime minister a year ago.
Mr Draghi is the former president of the European Central Bank and is widely credited with saving the euro from ruin during the debt crisis a decade ago, when Greece almost left the common currency and that Italy was on the verge of no longer being able to finance itself. sovereign debt markets. In the first year of the pandemic, when Italy was the first in Europe to bear the brunt of COVID-19, Mr. Draghi, now 74, was retired and did not consider another demanding and high-level career.
But when Giuseppe Conte’s government collapsed amid the pandemic, Mr Mattarella asked Mr Draghi to form a unity government. He did – and, crucially, finished negotiating a pandemic relief package with the European Union that will see Italy, the EU’s third-largest economy, conditionally receive around 200 billion euros. Under Mr Draghi, Italy has had one of the highest vaccination rates in the world and its economy has rebounded from its 2020 lows.
Matteo Renzi, a former prime minister who leads Italia Viva, a small centrist party, said on Saturday that keeping Mr Mattarella as president and Mr Draghi as prime minister was “the only way to let Italy immune to extravagant folly and lack of political direction”.
Matteo Salvini, leader of the centre-right’s largest party, the League, backed Mr Mattarella late in the game, after several of the party’s favored candidates failed to gain ground, destroying the attempted show of force by the League. “Italians don’t deserve more days of confusion,” he said, asking Mr Mattarella to “make a sacrifice” for the country.
The prospect of Mr Draghi remaining prime minister will appeal to international investors, Italian business leaders and pro-EU, pro-euro technocrats in Brussels. But there is no doubt that he will step down when the next election is called. If Mr. Mattarella leaves before the end of his second term, as his predecessor, Giorgio Napolitano did, Mr. Draghi could get a second chance at the presidency.
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