Italy’s Presidential election is fraught with risk

Italy is about to have a fundamental appointment: the election of the new President of the Republic. The late January date is fast-approaching, and the situation is quite uncertain so far.

According to the Constitution, the first session involving the members of the Parliament along with regional delegates involved in the election is to be called 30 days before incumbent President’s mandate ends. Hence, Fico called parliamentarians on January the 4th. The first actual session will then occur, according to the code of law, about 15-20 days afterwards. The first formal round for the election of the President will most likely be held between 18th and 22nd January.

This short timeframe shows the urgency of this election. However, this is not accompanied by enough preparations by all parties. In general, the sessions will be joined this year by 1007 electors, of which MPs constitute the backbone, with 58 regional delegates filling up the remainder. There will probably be 4 rounds overall, with the first 3 requiring two-thirds of the total votes for a candidate to be elected, 672 votes. The last one, if the election gets that far has the far less stringent prerequisite of requiring an absolute majority – 505 votes.

As mentioned earlier, the situation is quite convoluted, much like the majority of the Italian political system. One issue is that none of the two main parties, the centre-right and the centre-left coalition holds the absolute majority needed to win outright in the round of elections. Moreover, the candidates have not been revealed yet, be it for strategic purposes or due to a lack of representatives. In any case, there are several names wandering around the stage and possibly shedding light on some moves by the parties.

One theory is that the sitting President will be reconfirmed in the role. Even though this might be a safe and straightforward way of solving any issues, it is simply not an option as Mattarella himself recently ruled himself out of holding the office again. As a result of this, there are challengers jockeying for place. The place in fact will soon be vacant, with room for parties’ clashes to get the spot for their proposed candidates.

The second option – and most delicate – is Draghi. The Prime Minister is the real barometer. The mixed majority he is leading can potentially succeed in choosing the next President. The coalition is utterly heterogeneous, with Lega and PD, at opposite poles normally, coexisting in the same government. Which is to say that a common candidate is highly unlikely to be found. As a result, the only feasible solution for the government is the incumbent Prime Minister, able to possibly make all the players come to terms for the election.

In spite of this seeming to be a natural and probable outcome, there are downturns underlying the choice of Draghi as President. In case he is then elected as such, in fact, the immediate consequence would be an empty spot as Prime Minister. Draghi managed, for the first time in the last decade perhaps, to pull together several parties with different principles. In broad terms, Draghi managed to give the Italian political scene unheard of stability. A vacant place will now mean uncertainty and confusion, given that also the natural end of the current legislature would be in 2023, with a new PM only being in post for a 1 year period before an election. Not to mention the possible hurdles in managing the resources of the PNRR – the national recovery plan – handed down by the EU. This was probably the underlying reason for Draghi’s election as Prime Minister. Draghi stepping up to be President would likely break the stability that he has managed to create and could plunge Italy into political turmoil of an early election.

Furthermore, Draghi himself reportedly said that if he was allowed to have more flexibility in the decision-making and less pressure by the parties and if he was called to cover such a duty, he would be available. Hence, Draghi declared himself open to any possibility, which is bad as this presents both advantages – because he would give more prestige to Italy and he would be able to better negotiate with other European Leaders – and the aforementioned disadvantages.

As far as other candidates are concerned, much has been said about Berlusconi, most likely the chief contender for the centre-right coalition; the leftists, on the other hand have yet to give a clear indication, with Letta busy focusing on just preventing Berlusconi from being able to become President.  

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