Complete deadlock in the election of the President of the Republic


The fifth day of voting for a new president of the Republic has served only one purpose: to measure the level of fragmentation of the current political class. Once again, the anomaly has prevailed. An anomaly that really began to become apparent last Thursday 27th, when, at the first moment of simple majority voting (after three days of qualified majority), none of the relevant parliamentary groups put forward a single candidate. This confirmed what we had been seeing for days: instead of voting on possible candidates and these, in the end, not achieving the necessary "quorum" of the assembly of electors, they were directly left out of the game in meetings between the main leaders.

Finally, this Friday, Matteo Salvini, who has the largest parliamentary group (he is still outnumbered by Cinque Stelle) but the most compact because they know that their leader has a good chance of winning the next general election, decided to put a candidate forward and put him to the vote. And it was precisely the most predictable person: the Venetian Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, the current president of the Senate and therefore the nation's third highest authority. Casellati does not belong to Salvini's party (the League), but to Berlusconi's (Forza Italia), but she met, as we have said on previous occasions, all the requirements to be the first woman to become the first woman to become president of the Republic: age (she turned 75 last August), a long parliamentary career (she entered the lower house as early as 1994 and has only left Parliament to sit on the Superior Council of the Judiciary), an unblemished record (she is not known for any corruption cases or anything similar), good looks and, as we say, being a woman, as we say, being a woman at a time when it is becoming increasingly anachronistic that in the eurozone's third largest economy only men hold both the office of head of state and head of government (there have already been twelve Presidents of the Republic and 31 Presidents of the Council of Ministers, all of them men).

Casellati knew, even before the vote began, that he had little chance of winning, because, outside the centre-right (which had 460 votes), no one had announced that they would support him: not even Matteo Renzi, who with his almost half a hundred votes could have brought him very close to a simple majority, set at 504 votes. But the reality is that Italian politics has settled into a pre-election scenario, Renzi has realised that while the centre-right has a strong leader (Salvini, because Meloni's polls give the impression of showing a degree of support that does not correspond to reality), the centre-left, on the other hand, continues to have a serious leadership problem since he himself resigned in March 2018: his successor, Nicola Zingaretti, was a real fiasco and, after two years with hardly any media presence, resigned. Now the PD has as its visible head the former Prime Minister Letta, who in practice is an interim Secretary General ("regent" he is called) and who has no plans to be his party's candidate in the next elections, nor is anyone likely to ask him to be.

But, regardless of what Renzi decided, and Casellati has known about this for days, what Friday's vote has shown is the degree of decomposition of his party (Forza Italia). Because once again the famous "snipers" (those who vote against their party under cover of the secret ballot) have appeared, and the worst thing for Casellati is that he has "surpassed" the "record" of Bersani in 2013: if one in four of his party refused to vote for him at the time, in the case of Casellati we are at a third (almost 60 out of nearly 180). The truth is that it does not seem that any of Meloni or Salvini disobeyed the order to vote for Casellati.

Subsequently there was a second vote last Friday, but by that time the negotiations between the three parties had already been reopened, with Salvini having had to see Draghi again for what purpose, but surely so that he could personally ask the outgoing president, Sergio Mattarella, to accept a second term of office, which in this case would be temporary. Salvini, whose relations with Mattarella have never been good, knows that the only one capable of persuading the veteran Sicilian politician and jurist is precisely Draghi, who shares a great deal of sympathy with him and who happens to be the other "independent" in the main state magistracies (let us remember that Mattarella is, after all, a Christian Democrat, and that Christian Democracy was dissolved at the beginning of 1993).

Apart from Draghi and Mattarella, there seems to be only a third card to play, that of another Christian Democrat, Casini. He has in his favour the fact that he has been both minister and speaker of the lower house (he was in 2006-08), his age (68) and his central position, which gives him the possibility of "fishing" in both fishing grounds (on the right and on the left). Against him is the lack of prestige within society: although he has no corruption issues behind him, he is considered the classic "politician by profession", in other words, the one who has spent a lifetime living from politics. That is why he already knows that Cinque Stelle, which detests the political class before he entered politics in 2009, will probably not vote for him, and then there is the problem of the centre-right, which would be forced to vote for someone from the centre-left when they have a majority (beyond the notorious snipers).

Casini's election would ensure that everything remains as it is: Draghi as prime minister with a large "maggioranza" supporting his executive; and that the legislature ends on schedule (March 2023). So, now that the presidential election has entered a phase not only of simple majority voting, but also of two daily ballots, what will probably happen is that Mattarella will wait for Casini (or someone else) to be elected and, if not, have no choice but to do as Napolitano did in 2013: accept a second consecutive term despite his advanced age (Napolitano was 88 years old at the time, compared to Mattarella's 80).

Basically, this is an unprecedented situation, because never before has a non-party prime minister had to be elected president of the Republic, when the unwritten rule states that the "premier", who holds the "maggioranza" to govern, must take the initiative in proposing a new head of state. And although it may seem so, what Draghi is going through is not the same as what the "altro Mario" (Monti, prime minister between November 2011 and April 2013) went through in 2013. Because Monti, like Draghi, headed a government of independents (although in Monti's government there were no politicians, unlike Draghi's, where there are up to 15 politicians holding ministries), but, in the case of the economist from Varese (Monti), general elections had just been held; Pierluigi Bersani's PD had won by the narrowest of margins; and it was he who had to propose the names for head of state, failing to get any of them through and finally being shot down by the famous "snipers".

We shall see what happens, but the embarrassment at the hands of the politicians is growing by the minute and it will be difficult to get through this weekend without electing a Head of State. What is certain is that, at least for the moment (because it should be remembered that the other strong candidate, the diplomat Belloni, has not been put to the vote, and could be the one to assume the honour that Casellati could not), a historic opportunity to put a woman at the head of the presidency of the Republic has been missed: of course, if almost six dozen of your people do not vote for you, "off we go". And that is what has happened to a Casellati who still cannot believe what has happened. But the truth is that on this subject (the presidential election and the "snipers"), it sounds all too familiar: tell that to Amintore Fanfani, a DC legend, six times Prime Minister and who in 1971 was denied the chance to be the new tenant of the Quirinal Palace precisely because a significant part of his party refused to support him, and Giovanni Leone was finally elected. Pablo Martín de Santa Olalla Saludes is Professor at the Centro Universitario ESERP and author of the book Historia de la Italia republicana, 1946-2021 (Madrid, Sílex Ediciones, 2021).