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Mattarella's re-election or the failure of a political class in its lowest hours

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It is now a reality: Sergio Mattarella, President of the Republic since 3 February 2015, is taking up a second presidential mandate, despite having turned eighty years old a few months ago and having said actively and passively that he was not "available" for a possible re-election. But he has had no choice but to do so in the face of a political class that, for almost a week, has given a lesson in puerility and a complete lack of a sense of state.

For six days and up to seven votes (the eighth was the final one, with Mattarella surpassing by almost a hundred votes what he achieved in 2015), the main parliamentary groups did nothing more than block any possible candidacy. And there were candidates, but with the permanent "no" in the mouths of both sides, it was not possible to reach an "intessa". Finally, Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who never had a real chance of succeeding Mattarella because it would put the country's governability at risk and open the door to early elections that practically no one wanted, intervened to convince Mattarella to accept re-election.

The question now is to know what Mattarella will do: the Constitution states that the mandate is for seven years and the veteran Sicilian politician and jurist is a strict adherent of the Constitution, but in a year and a half he will have a possible successor in the person of Draghi. Although it is not the first time that an outgoing president has been forced to accept a second term (Napolitano had to do so in 2013), Mattarella is taking up his second seven-year term in the Quirinal when he is eight years younger than Napolitano, so it remains to be seen whether he decides to resign early to make way for Draghi or remain at the head of state. Because what is certain is that only his personal decision to leave or a health problem can make him shorten this second term: from then on, no one can prevent him from staying on until February 2029, when this second term would expire.

There have been two key factors in understanding why this situation has come about, beyond the extraordinary popularity and brilliance with which Mattarella has served as President of the Republic for the past seven years.

The first is the fact that, unlike on previous occasions, there was no one to carry the weight of the election, which normally falls to the President of the Council of Ministers. Because it so happened that Draghi, who has been at the head of the government for the past year, is an independent, so he is not the leader of any party: he is not the leader of any party. In the case of the previous independent premiers, neither had to suffer this situation: Ciampi (1993-94) and Dini (1995-96) had Scalfaro as their elected President since 1992, and Monti (2011-13), who was Prime Minister when Napolitano's mandate expired, was in the background as general elections had been held just before and Pierluigi Bersani, then leader of the Democratic Party (PD), had won.

The second factor requires going back to September 2020. Let us recall that in the third week of that month, at the same time as elections were held to appoint the governor of up to seven different regions, a "referendum" was held, promoted by the Five Star Movement, which "tagliaba" ("reduced") the Parliament by a third: the lower house would, from the next legislature, have 400 members instead of the current 630, while the upper house would remain at 200 after having had up to 315 senators.

In that "referendum", the "yes" to the reduction in the number of parliamentarians won overwhelmingly (almost 70% of voters supported it) and from that moment onwards the 945 members of the current Parliament have known that one out of every two would not be able to revalidate their seats and would probably have to leave politics at the end of the current legislature. This has had two fundamental consequences: deliberately extending the legislature to the end (ensuring another year and a half to continue receiving the fabulous salary that each parliamentarian receives, which is around ten times more than what the average worker earns) and, on the other hand, the proliferation of so-called "snipers", i.e. parliamentarians who vote against the decision of their respective leaders under the cover of the secrecy of the vote, as never before. If in 2013 it was Bersani who had to suffer the pernicious actions of up to 104 "snipers", now, nine years later, it is the President of the Senate (Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati) who has seen six dozen of her colleagues vote against her.

In fact, from the very beginning of the voting it was clear that the different leaders did not really know how many votes they really had, and so, instead of putting candidates to the vote, they directly threw them down in crude inter-party negotiations that were nothing more than pure posturing for show, making people believe that they were seeking a pact that they never intended. And they all had a common problem: polls after polls showed that most of the parties would see a very substantial reduction in the number of members they have at the moment. Matteo Salvini, for example, knows that at the moment he would not even be able to win a seat for his current 210 MPs, because with 600 "seggi" at stake and 18% of voting intentions he has at the moment, he would fall far short of what he has at his command now.

In turn, the main centre-left party, which is none other than the Democratic Party (PD), would improve on its 2018 results, but would also suffer a significant loss of MPs. And what about Renzi's Italia Viva, which, polls in hand, is a party on the verge of becoming extra-parliamentary, and which will only be able to find a place for its members by joining a centre and pro-European coalition of which it is not yet known who they intend to form part. In reality, the only one who did not fear early elections was the Roman Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy, barring an unforeseen slump, are assured of a very significant growth of their parliamentary group in the next general elections.

In any case, the blame for the embarrassment, which explains the population's growing disaffection with politics, cannot be shared equally. This explains why Matteo Salvini, as "strongman" of the centre-right, tried to lead the votes (known as "kingmaker") but to no avail, because he needed the support of at least the PD and Italia Viva to try anything, and they only had "no" for an answer. The list of presidential candidates (Cartabia, Casellati and Draghi himself) was useless: it was increasingly clear that the majority wanted Mattarella to stay where he was.

They got their way and the veteran Sicilian Christian Democrat will have to remain in the Quirinal for at least another year, and who knows how many more. Now everyone is congratulating themselves on what they have achieved, when in reality they have put on one of the most unpresentable spectacles in living memory. That is the problem with having so many professional politicians involved in parliamentary life: they do not have the slightest vision of the future or sense of State; they do not know how to build but only how to destroy; and the worst thing is that they have to live with it. As long as talent does not want to return to politics, this is what we get: "politicostros" who force an old man to stay where he is even though he had every right to retire. Let's hope that Mattarella can "get even" in his inaugural speech: on that day he will tell him the truths that today have been hidden by politicians who are too well paid for so much uselessness and incapacity. Doesn't it remind us, and very much, of what we are experiencing today in our country? Certainly, yes, and the worst thing is that it has no signs of changing.

-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 (Sílex Ediciones, 2021).