Silvio Berlusconi and the mystery of the presidential elections in Italy

The news that Italy will have a new president later this month may not make hearts beat faster. But, if you dig a little deeper, it’s more interesting than it looks.

How is the presidential election going in Italy?

First of all, it is one of the most idiosyncratic and mysterious presidential elections in Europe. While in countries like France it is the citizens who elect the new president at the polls, in Italy it is 630 deputies, 321 senators and 58 regional elected officials who do so.

What is most unusual is that instead of being limited to a serving politician, Italy allows anyone over the age of 50 with “full civil rights” to run for office. The somewhat mysterious process, which takes place over several rounds until one candidate wins a majority, has drawn comparisons to the papal conclave and is an exception in Europe.

This complicated form of election has led to non-politicians running as candidates, such as Gianni Versace’s brother Santo, actress Sophia Loren and even a mob boss ‘Ndrangheta. In statements to Euronews, Francesco Silvestri – MP for the Five Star Movement – explained how some unlikely names end up popping up.

“There are agreements and maneuvers that make 10 or 15 votes go to a specific person”he told Euronews. “All of this is happening behind the scenes.” Lawyer and constitutional expert, Marco Ladu, also explains the reason for the idiosyncrasy of the process, i.e. why presidents are secretly elected by lawmakers and not by the general public.

“There are two main reasons behind the peculiarity of all this,” explains the lawyer. “To prevent the President from going against the will of both Houses [en el parlamento] and to ensure that he has the necessary composure and independence to carry out his role, things which could be compromised by a direct election.

Residing in the Quirinal Palace, the President of Italy, as Head of State, must ensure respect for the Constitution. Unlike the Prime Minister, the President of the Republic has no executive function, but rather represents the “point of connection” between the three powers.

Although his role is largely ceremonial, the president can exert his influence, for example, in the appointment of prime ministers or, as head of the Italian armed forces, during wars and other national emergencies.

Why are elections taking place now?

Because Sergio Mattarella, at the end of his seven-year term, will leave his functions. He has presided over multiple crises – including the COVID-19 pandemic – and is widely seen as a beacon of stability in a particularly turbulent time.

Mattarella enjoys wide public support, so finding a replacement has been a challenge.. The list of proposed candidates includes new and not-so-new faces, such as controversial former prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi. He helped make these elections one of the most heated in recent memory in the country.

What are the alternatives to Berlusconi?

Now that Italy is approaching the first round on January 24, several names have been considered as possible candidates, although due to the secrecy of the process it is difficult to make reliable predictions. Italy’s incumbent Prime Minister Mario Draghi is seen as a popular choice for the job, although some commentators and investors fear his early departure from government could leave the country in a precarious position.

There have even been suggestions, particularly popular within the Five Star Movement, that Mattarella could be re-elected for the nomination. Yet of all the current suggestions, none is as famous – and intensely polarizing – as Berlusconi.

Berlusconi, 85, ruled Italy three times between 1994 and 2011, leading the country’s center-right coalition, which included moderate Christian Democrats, hardline post-fascists, separatists from the North and even a handful of Social Democrats.

Throughout his tenure, BErlusconi has been embroiled in a series of scandals that have intertwined his private and public life, ranging from reports of “Bunga Bunga” orgies and accusations of soliciting sexual services from a child, to allegations of corruption and ties to organized crime.

While his supporters praised him for his entrepreneurial acumen and magnetic appeal, he was condemned by his critics for allegedly fostering a Borgia-style culture of patronage and for using his popular television channels as vehicles. electoral propaganda.

His crimes in the court of public opinion may have been many and varied, but it was tax evasion that brought him to court. In 2013, he was found guilty by the Italian Supreme Court of tax evasion of around €7 million through his company, Finivest, which earned him a four-year prison sentence (reduced to one year of community service) and a ban on holding public office for six years. .

This record may make him an unlikely candidate for the ceremonial seriousness expected of a president, and yet he is now the candidate of the centre-right: the radical populist Northern League, led by former Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, and the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia), whose leader Giorgia Meloni is the new Italian star in the polls, have officially joined their coalition ally in backing his presidential bid. All this despite the differences within the bloc – the same leader of the League group in the Chamber of Deputies, Riccardo Molinari, described it as “dividing” – and the tense relationship between Salvini and Berlusconi, which he already had previously criticized.

“Terrible consequences”

Euronews spoke to Alex Bazzaro, a Northern League MP since 2018 and former Salvini social media manager, to find out his thoughts on the upcoming presidential elections.

At just 34, Bazzaro is one of the youngest members of the lower house and was ten days shy of his seventh birthday when Berlusconi won his first general election in 1994. From now on, Bazzaro will enthusiastically support Berlusconi’s presidency.

“It’s the first time that [coalición] the centre-right is presenting its own presidential candidate, and that’s a good thing,” Bazzaro said. “The public will is there for him to be the leader of the country.

When asked if Berlusconi’s scandals and polemics might prove unpopular with the League’s electorate – who are largely drawn to the party’s unwavering mantra of law and order – Bazzaro reiterated his view that his constituents “will appreciate that the centre-right has come forward and rallied behind their own candidate.”

Bazzaro’s response to Molinari’s accusations that a Berlusconi presidency could be divisive: “If it’s divisive, it’s only with the left.”

Indeed, Berlusconi’s eventual election has left many on the other side of the political spectrum, and even former allies of the League’s ruling coalition – the Five Star Movement – deeply worried.

Silvestri, who is voting for the presidency for the first time, is particularly horrified by the proposal. “If Berlusconi becomes president, it would be a very bad thing for us,” he told Euronews. “As a movement, we were born against everything he stands for, especially given his numerous lawsuits and accusations of mafia ties.

“It would have terrible consequences not only for Italy’s image, but for its international credibility and therefore for the economy.” “After everything the country has been through, Italy simply cannot afford to have Berlusconi as president.”

Pollsters are currently predicting that a Draghi presidency is likely, but they are not ruling out Berlusconi’s chances. A recent poll suggests he is Italians’ second-favorite choice for the job, demonstrating his enduring – if strongly divisive – appeal to the public.

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