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Opinion

After the presidential election, the road to Italy's next general election begins

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Now that Sergio Mattarella has accepted a second term as President of the Republic, and bearing in mind that the current Draghi government (about to complete its first year in office, which it will do on the 13th of this month), it is time to start thinking about the general elections, which will take place in March 2023 at the latest.

It should be borne in mind that, barring unforeseen circumstances, these general elections will be held under the same electoral law as that of 2018, known as the "Rosatellum bis", the main defining element of which is to favour coalitions over parties standing alone. So it is time to get down to work, because these "political" elections will have the particularity of leading to a new Parliament with a third fewer representatives: compared to the 945 in previous elections, there will now be only 600 new MPs (400 in the Lower House and 200 in the Upper House). So there is a lot at stake, beyond the fact that the huge decomposition of the Five Star Movement, which in March 2018 won one out of three seats in both Houses, gives the impression that it will free up a lot of "space" hitherto occupied, because, even if it is going to run, it neither really has a leader (its former prime minister is increasingly blurred) nor does it have politicians of prominence once the main ones (Di Maio, Bonafede or Tonninelli) have turned out to be a complete fiasco in their respective portfolios.

In principle, the only clear coalition was that of the centre-right, formed by Forza Italia, Brothers of Italy and the League. But Salvini's performance in the presidential election, presenting the president of the Senate (Maria Elisabetta Casellati) as his candidate against the wishes of the party leadership of this Venetian politician and lawyer (who already knew she had many detractors), Hence the appearance of more than 50 "snipers" who refused to vote for her despite belonging to her party), has led to the fact that, while Salvini is now seeking to merge Forza Italia with the League in something that has already been discussed at the time (the Italian "Centro-Destra Unito" or "CDU"), Forza Italia is beginning to consider other possibilities. And one of them has already been announced by Giovanni Totti, governor of Liguria and former member of Forza Italia, who has offered to form a coalition with his party and that of former prime minister Matteo Renzi: Italia Viva would occupy the centre-left, Cambiamento (Totti's party) the centre and Forza Italia the centre-right.

Renzi does not take a dim view of this possibility, although in recent times he has been doing everything possible to attract the party of which he was secretary general on two occasions (the Democratic Party, PD) into his camp. Proof of this is that he supported the candidacy of the Roman Roberto Gualteri for Mayor of Rome (winning the "ballottaggio") and that, now, in the presidential vote, he has voted together with the PD during the six days of the election for the Presidency of the Quirinale. But it is true that Renzi knows that the PD continues to leave the door open to Cinque Stelle, and that is not his way, as his very bad relations with this party are well known. In the event that the PD and Italia Viva finally run together, there are other parties that could join, such as Piu Europa (Emma Bonino's party) or Azione (led by former minister Calenda).

On the right, it will be necessary to resolve the unresolved issues between Meloni and Salvini. The former is very angry not only because the League voted for Mattarella (when the founder of this party, Umberto Bossi, now physically very diminished and already an octogenarian), has distinguished himself throughout his political life for being profoundly anti-Christian Democrat, a line that, by the way, would later be continued by the man of the failed succession (Roberto Maroni, ex-minister and ex-governor of Lombardy). Meloni has said publicly that not only does he find it shameful that the League has supported Mattarella's second term, but that Salvini did not even bother to tell him before the vote that his party would support the veteran Sicilian jurist and politician.

But the fact is that the coalition formed by Forza Italia, Brothers of Italy and the League has been running together since the elections for the government of the Sicilian region in October 2017, and that this has given them the possibility of governing up to 15 of the 20 regions that make up the country. So we will see what happens at this point, but what is certain, on the one hand, is that Meloni and Salvini have never been so at loggerheads, and equally that Forza Italia now deeply distrusts the League leader.

Presumably Mattarella, before accepting re-election after meeting with all the political leaders prior to the final vote, extracted a commitment from all of them that they would continue to support (with the exception of Meloni, who has never wanted to do so) the executive headed by Mario Draghi. It is equally likely that there will be general elections in March next year; that the centre-right will win them; that Salvini (or Meloni, who knows) will become the new president of the Council of Ministers; that Mattarella will resign early and finally be able to retire from public life; and, finally, that Draghi will become the next president of the Republic in new elections to the Quirinal that would take place in the second half of 2023.

But, as we have said, the only thing that has become clear after Sergio Mattarella's controversial re-election is that the Democratic Party and Italia Viva are moving ever closer together. Beyond that, there are major clashes: in Cinque Stelle, between its leader and the former leader (Di Maio); and in the centre-right, between Forza Italia and the League, and also between the League and Meloni. But the truth is that there is still time to clarify the situation.

The first thing will be to check that there is no "rimpasto" (reshuffle) in the Draghi government, which at the moment seems unlikely to happen. Second, whether the centre-right coalition remains as such or accepts Giovanni Totti's offer. And thirdly, whether the Democratic Party, Five Star and LeU are really capable of forging a centre-left coalition or whether the PD prefers to make a pact with other formations such as the aforementioned Italia Viva, Piu Europa and Azione. And most important of all: to see whether the centre-right keeps its word and lets Draghi reach the end of the legislature, because its votes are decisive in keeping the current government in place. But what is certain is that the road to a new general election has already begun, and that politicians are already beginning to find themselves campaigning. However, everything will depend on the evolution of the coronavirus, which continues to permanently alter the electoral calendar.

Pablo Martín de Santa Olalla Saludes is a professor at the Centro Universitario ESERP and author of the book 'Historia de la Italia republicana, 1946-2021' (Madrid, Sílex Ediciones, 2021).