Italian Presidential election: the instability behind the continuity

28 February 2022 /

6 min

After five days of voting, Italy re-elected its previous President of the Republic for another seven years. Despite there have been many other candidates to cast a vote for, the fragmentation of the Parliament and political forces is believed to be one of the reasons behind the election’s outcome. 

On January 29, 2022, Sergio Mattarella, President of the Italian Republic, was re-elected at the age of 80 for another seven years of office. It took eight voting rounds to reach the absolute majority and surpass the quorum, but he ended up being the second most voted President of all time in Italy with 759 votes out of 983, and the second one to be re-elected for another mandate. Given the fact that the re-election of the President should be an exceptional solution, and considering the clearly stated will of Mattarella to leave the political scene, how can this result be interpreted? Does it signal that continuity is favored, or that there is a wide political fragmentation inside the Parliament?

How the election process works

The election of the President of the Italian Republic takes place every seven years inside the Parliament, where the so-called ‘great voters’, composed of all MPs and 58 regional delegates (3 for each region, apart from Aosta Valley, which has only one representative) with a total of 1009 people, can vote for every citizen who is at least 50 years old and has civil and political rights. During the first three rounds of voting, it is necessary to reach a qualified majority (673 votes). Next, if the process continues from the fourth tournament, the threshold is lowered to 505 votes, which is an absolute majority that’s required. There can be more than one voting round in a day, which was the case even this year, despite the procedure being slightly different due to COVID-19.

The main candidates

The first tournament took place on January 24, 2022. Many names of possible candidates were already circulating in the weeks before, while many others appeared later as an attempt to find a possible solution that would meet the consensus of the majority. Silvio Berlusconi was one of the figures that seemed to be favored, and the center-right coalition asked him to participate in the election, but two days before the beginning he decided to withdraw his candidacy. Mario Draghi, the actual Prime Minister, was named and appeared as a good compromise as he was capable of satisfying the majority. Pier Ferdinando Casini, former President of the Chamber of Deputies, and Filippo Patroni Griffi, former President of the Council of State, were also considered as super partes candidates not affiliated with a specific political group and, therefore, able to collect transversal votes. The right-wing parties proposed other candidates as Marcello Pera, former President of the Senate, Carlo Nordio, a judge, Franco Frattini, President of the Council of State, and Gianni Letta, who is very close to Berlusconi. On the other hand, the center-left side responded with the names of Paolo Gentiloni, current Economy European Commissioner, Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, and Giuliano Amato, current Vice-President of the Constitutional Court.

The gender question: a missed opportunity

However, alongside the many names cited, it was the first year that a lot of women were present among the possible candidates. Letizia Moratti, Vice-President of Lombardy, Marta Cartabia, current Minister of Justice, Paola Severino, former Minister of Justice, Elisabetta Belloni, head of secret service, and Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, President of the Senate. The latter managed to be the most voted during the fifth round with 382 votes; nonetheless, it was not enough to reach the quorum, and, hence, her name was set aside. Although many women were proposed as participants in the election, and it appeared that an effort was made to bring the first woman to the Quirinale, the question of gender equality in the institutional environment was not addressed in a meaningful way. Nothing was really done to create a dialogue between different political forces to reach the objective; it seems that the various declarations were only made to mitigate the public opinion and to not show the incapacity of parties to influence the outcome of the election. The candidates were proposed without any certainty regarding their possibility of succeeding or their capacity to attract voters. For instance, Alberti Casellati was discarded by the members of her own coalition, and the candidacy of Belloni was not agreed beforehand and, thus, abandoned, while Cartabia or Severino were almost not taken into consideration as they weren’t fully supported from the beginning. It turned out to be another missed opportunity to make a difference and improve institutional representation.

The outcome: why Sergio Mattarella is still there

In the end, the only one capable of collecting the consensus of every political movement was the current President Sergio Mattarella. At the end of his mandate, he clearly stated that he wanted to retire from the public scene and leave the role to somebody else; nonetheless, his name appeared during the voting rounds from the very beginning, and he has always been the most voted in every tournament apart from one, making the possibility of a Mattarella bis more and more concrete. Consequently, he agreed to accept his re-election if all political forces would ask him to, given the delicate situation the country is facing. Therefore, it can be said that the result was pre-defined. The victory of Mattarella was welcomed as a great triumph with phrases like “it’s a victory for all”, “Italians wanted Mattarella”, etc., with political forces engaged in assuring that this was not a backup plan but rather the best option available, as he has been a symbol of guarantee and continuity of the previous mandate and the government – he is the one who appointed Draghi.

Therefore, the question that comes up naturally is: why were all the other candidates set aside? There have been continuous attempts at finding another figure, but all of them failed to be elected. Every party was trying to make their interests known by proposing affiliated candidates, but they encountered the resistance of the opposed wings that put into place different strategies, such as abstaining from voting or leaving the ballots blank. Many names were judged as too divisive, while others were already in charge of an institutional position, like Draghi who could have left the role as a Prime Minister that would have been very difficult to replace, or Belloni who as a head of secret service appeared to be a quite controversial candidate. Some wanted a super partes figure, less politicized and more institutionalized, while others argued that with a technocrat as head of the government it would be more appropriate to have a political figure as President. The choice might have been dictated by the current situation the country is facing, with the pandemic, the economic recovery, the recent international developments, and the upcoming parliamentary elections of the next year. However, these are all symptoms that the Italian Parliament, and political scene in general, is now highly fragmented, incapable of putting aside its interests and finding a common ground for the public benefit, and it prefers to keep the status quo intact to not alter the equilibrium that is now there. Behind the façade of enthusiasm and apparent consensus, this is very clear, and is also leading to think of a reform of the presidential election system in favor of a direct one. 

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