The palaces of Rome, centuries past, still speak of the identity of their tenants. The Quirinal Palace was built in the 16th century as the second papal residence. With the fall of the Papal States and the unification of Italy, it became the seat of the monarchy and, after the constitutional referendum, it became the seat of the Presidency of the Republic. But the mannerisms, the silence and the way major decisions are made still recall the idiosyncrasy of the Vatican. The next three months bring Italy’s most exciting political ritual back to the fore. The mother of all institutional battles who will have to find a successor to Sergio Mattarella (80) at the head of the Presidency of the Republic. Lace is complicated. The names range from Prime Minister Mario Draghi to Silvio Berlusconi, who is already dreaming out loud of ending his career as head of state. But neither of them completely solves the problem: completing the country’s reforms.
Italy is already in the white semester, the six months in which chambers are not allowed to be dissolved and everything has a presidential key. The departure from the Quirinal is open and will set all Italian politics on fire: in the short and long term. The name of the candidate, especially if Draghi is elected, will determine the political line for the next seven years and the expiry of the current legislature. The problem is that the current Prime Minister’s ascent to the Quirinal Hill would require finding a replacement who would complete the fifth year of the legislature at its most turbulent moment or convince Mattarella to accept another term. Otherwise, it would be necessary to call early elections, an operation which suits almost no one at the moment and which would jeopardize the reforms that the country is carrying out to ensure the smooth running of investments with European funds. The swimming pools are open. But the staging of the decision, which will take place between the end of January and the beginning of February, will in any case be spectacular.
Members of both chambers meet in Montecitorio (the Chamber of Deputies) on voting days. There are 950 parliamentarians plus senators for life. All under rules that allow lengthening To infinity the votes to reach an agreement and in which the necessary quorum decreases as the election of the candidate progresses without success. In the first three, you need two thirds: that is 673 parliamentarians out of 1,008. From the fourth, serve only half plus one. Only then do the candidates for consideration begin to appear.
The name of the elected official does not generally resonate in the first ballots. Francesco Cossiga, Minister of the Interior when Aldo Moro was kidnapped and Prime Minister from 1979 to 1980, is one of the two cases that contradict this unwritten rule (752 votes out of 977 voters). The other is Carlo Azeglio Ciampi (1999-2006), the model who is now invoked to promote Draghi: he was a banker and he was Prime Minister and President almost without interruption. The others, like Mattarella, Napolitano or Scalfaro (16th vote), stuck after many attempts. This circumstance causes the parties to take the first votes like a game of poker and come up with extravagant names that range from television presenters or activists like the doctor and founder of the NGO Urgence Gino Strada who will end up being discarded: the so- saying candidate flags.
Stefano Ceccanti, PD deputy and constitutional expert, believes that “this time it’s completely different”. “Normally, there was a government majority which could choose on its own. But if you have such a heterogeneous majority as now, you must vote together to avoid problems at the executive. Otherwise, the parties that remain outside could decide to withdraw their ministers. That is why now it would be important to do it in the first three ballots”.
Draghi, almost everyone agrees, is the name that carries the most weight and prestige for the Quirinal. But his appointment worries many parliamentarians, who fear that his election will force them to call early elections and lose their seats. “Nobody will say it clearly. But this variable weighs heavily in the decision”, confides a deputy of the 5 Star Movement, on the point of exhausting the two mandates that the rules of his party do not allow to exceed.
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It also worries the European Union, where the reforms are expected to be completed and the projects in which the 200,000 million euros of the recovery plan that has been allocated to Italy will be invested, will be protected. If Draghi was chosen for the Quirinal and the elections were avoided, a technician would have to be found to lead the country to the polls. The problem, believe all the sources consulted, is that the year that remains will be eventful, the parties will activate the electoral confrontation – it is likely that Matteo Salvini will decide to leave the executive to mark his own profile – and it is feared that someone like the current economy minister, Daniele Franco, may not be able to deal with it.
The only option that would allow Draghi to finish his job as prime minister and maintain the options for the Quirinal Palace is to convince Mattarella to extend his term. It has already happened with Giorgio Napolitano, but the current president does not see a good eye twisting the Constitution for an idea which he already proposed to prohibit by law at the time. He doesn’t believe seven more years are desirable, say those who know him. Is convinced. By age and democratic health. But he does not see a good eye on the temporary extension of his mandate until the next elections, becoming a fix, explains a person who speaks with him. If the duration of the Government of a President of the Republic is seven years, it is precisely so that it does not coincide with the cycles of Parliament.
The game is very complicated. There are no names at Draghi level to replace Mattarella, crucial in the last four years containing the populist gale that has hit Italy. But, above all, no one agrees with all parties. The Minister of Justice, Marta Cartabia, is on the table: she would be the first woman. But his main supporters, the 5 Star Movement, are now rejecting him after the justice reform, which they did not like. Or the current head of the economy of the European Commission, Paolo Gentiloni. The last attempt could be made by proposing a two-year transition with Giuliano Amato, who was already on the verge of the job seven years ago before Renzi overthrew him. He was the favorite of Silvio Berlusconi, who today, at 85, would like to occupy this position himself. His coalition partners (La Liga and Brothers of Italy) allow him to continue to dream by whispering loyalty to him. Nobody in Italy, however, thinks he can do it. From January, it will also be part of the ritual.
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