Elections to the quirinal or the ceremony of confusion


The first vote to elect a new President of the Republic took place on Monday 24th. And, as was to be expected, it was all confusion, because, as there was no "flagship candidate" with Draghi conditioned by the fact that he is the current President of the Council of Ministers, the members of the "Colle" (the voters, in short) decided not to vote for anyone while waiting for the final name to be agreed.

The only noteworthy thing is that Salvini has begun to play a role of the utmost relevance, being, since March 2018, the strongest leader of the centre-right as a whole. But the main problem is that his interests are divergent from those of his interlocutors (PD and Five Star Movement): he wants elections as soon as possible, while the other two want to exhaust a legislature that has almost a year and a half left to run. It is also noteworthy that Draghi has begun to contact leaders, as if assuming that he may be the only one who can muster the level of unanimity necessary in any presidential election.

All this gives rise to what is known as "totonomi", which leads to the most absurd possibilities: Elisabetta Belloni or Marta Cartabia as Draghi's successor; a Franco Frattini completely withdrawn from everything as a new candidate for the presidency of the Republic; and the reality that new names will continue to appear because it seems that they all have a chance, when in reality there are not even five candidates with a real chance.

Perhaps most embarrassing of all is the outgoing president, Sergio Mattarella, who received as many as 16 votes on the first day of voting when he has repeated ad nauseam that he wants nothing to do with a second term. As knowledgeable as he is about the transalpine political class, what many do not know is that last Sunday (23 January), he landed in Palermo (Sicily), his home city, when in reality his mandate does not end until 3 February: a way of putting himself in the sights of the parliamentarians who are to elect his successor. And he also sent to the press, more than intentionally, photos of boxes and boxes containing all his belongings that he received during his time as President of the Republic.

In relation to this, many do not want to bear in mind that Mattarella is a strict adherent to the Italian Constitution, which states that the President of the Republic has a seven-year mandate: so, whoever wants to elect him, forget that he is going to do what they intend to do (literally, "warm the chair" for Draghi until the end of the legislature and then resign and leave "free rein" to the Roman banker and economist). Because only one president accepted re-election, the ex-communist Napolitano in 2013, and he did so reluctantly and because centre-right and centre-left were strongly opposed to each other. A year and a half later, Napolitano told Matteo Renzi, then Prime Minister, that he was going to resign and Renzi let him know that he would do everything possible to find a successor. Finally, on 31 January 2015, Mattarella was elected in the first ballot by a simple majority and Napolitano was finally able to retire from public life, a few months away from his ninetieth birthday. By the way, he is still alive; in a few months he will be 97 years old.

The reality is that now, in addition to there being a genuine multi-party system (three parties on the centre-right, and another three on the centre-left plus the appendix that constitutes Free and Equal, not forgetting a Five Star party that is pure decomposition), the situation is much easier than one might think: another question is whether the national leaders will perform their umpteenth "act of creativity", something that is always to be expected.

The reality is this: the centre-right has a clear majority (460 voters, compared to just over 350 for the centre-left); the centre-left has already won three consecutive elections (Napolitano in 2006 and 2013, and Mattarella in 2015); and the centre-right has a good bunch of candidates (Frattini, former Foreign Minister, is one of them), starting with the President of the Senate (Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellatti, to whom there is no "but" to be said). And that, whatever may be said, the new President of the Republic is going to have a much easier time than Mattarella has had. Because next year, barring a major surprise, the centre-right will clearly win the general elections; Matteo Salvini will become Prime Minister, because he is the strongest within this part of the parliamentary arc; and because, since 1996, all legislatures, except that of 2006-08, have lasted the five years envisaged by the Constitution, having entered a phase of stability that leaves behind the hard times of 1992-96.

Could Draghi end up in the Quirinal? It is certainly a possibility. But it would be highly criticised in the economic media ("The Economist" has already made clear its opposition to Draghi leaving the government, as it would be detrimental to the very good progress of the country's economy) and, whatever the parliamentary groups negotiate, the reality is that Draghi is not marrying anyone; It would be a major failure for the political class to have lost first (February 2021) the presidency of the Council of Ministers and then the presidency of the Republic (January or February 2022), all to the benefit of the same person. The thought of Draghi holding the two highest state offices consecutively without ever having been elected and without leading a political party is something that should give many people pause for thought.

But let us remember the immediate past. If there is one thing that distinguishes Italian politicians, it is their "waist": their extraordinary flexibility and creativity, so that at any moment they can pull the most unexpected name out of their sleeves. Because the history of presidential elections is littered with elected officials who were real dark horses: Saragat, Leone, Ciampi, Napolitano and Mattarella are good examples of this. And the name of the dark horse, as with Mattarella in 2015, will be known on Wednesday or Thursday at the earliest.

What happens is that both Five Star and the Democratic Party (PD) have to sell to their electorate that they have not made it easy for the centre-right. Of course, the one who could come out of this election much stronger is Salvini, who would go from being considered the "enemy of the European Union" to a "statesman". A great reward for a person with no university degree, a politician by profession and a low intellectual level in one of the most cultured countries with the greatest historical and artistic heritage in the whole of the European Union. Seeing is believing!

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).