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What profile should the next president of the Republic of Italy have?

Mario Draghi

There are now only two months to go before voting begins to elect the current President of the Italian Republic, the Sicilian Sergio Mattarella. And, as expected, in a political class that is rather idle on the whole because the Draghi government is already in place to run the country, there is no end of debate as to who should be the new tenant of the Quirinal Palace for the 2022-29 seven-year term. And, given that this type of election has followed the same tradition for decades (we are already on our thirteenth president) since the Italian Republic was proclaimed on 2 June 1946, we will try to give what we consider to be the fundamental keys to this new presidential nomination. 

The first key point is that, as a rule, those who have served the longest as President of the Council of Ministers have not managed to become President of the Republic: too many enemies along the way to gain the necessary support. Thus, De Gasperi (eight times Prime Minister), Andreotti (seven), Fanfani (six), Moro and Rumor (both five) and Berlusconi (four) have never been elected head of state. It is true that Berlusconi still has a chance and is going to try this time, but the fact that he is the man who has been at the head of the Council of Ministers for the longest time (he has spent more than 3,500 days) weighs heavily. The fact is that those who had been Premiers before becoming Presidents of the Republic had only done so on two occasions: Segni, Leone and Cossiga, all three headed two governments, and no more. In contrast, there are many presidents of the Republic who have never presided over a Council of Ministers: De Nicola, Einaudi, Saragat, Pertini, Scalfaro, Napolitano and Mattarella were never premiers. Indeed, some, like the much-loved Pertini, never even became ministers. 

The second key point is that the candidates who stand a good chance are those who have presided or are currently presiding over one of the two chambers of parliament: more than half of the presidents of the Republic have previously presided over one or both chambers, although there is a much better chance if the chamber they have presided over is the lower chamber than the upper chamber. So watch out for active politicians who have been in these positions in recent legislatures or are currently in office. 

The third is that they must have a prestigious and unblemished track record. The clearest example is personified by the current President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella: a rigorous jurist, brother of a Mafia victim (his brother Piersanti was gunned down outside Mass in January 1980), minister and deputy prime minister, and finally member of the Superior Council of the Magistracy, he had not the slightest connection with any corruption affair. Like him, the careers of Saragat, Pertini, Scalfaro and Ciampi, for example, were impeccable. 

The fourth is the age bracket in which they must be located at the time of their election: no younger than 60 and no older than 80. Below this figure, the only exception is Cossiga, elected in 1985, and above that, Pertini and Napolitano, both already octogenarians at the time of their nomination. Mattarella, for example, was 73 when he was elected in January 2015; Scalfaro, 74 when he received the support of the "Colle" in 1992; and Ciampi, 79 in the 1999 election. 

Sergio Mattarella
PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -  The current President of the Republic of Italy, Sergio Mattarella

Over time, a fundamental requirement has been added when it comes to being chosen: his openly pro-European stance. Napolitano, in 2006 and 2013, and Mattarella, in 2015, represented like few others the communitarian spirit inherited from that myth of Italian republican history that was the Trentino Alcide De Gasperi. So much so that, when the so-called "government of change" (the one formed by Five Star and the League) tried to "sneak" Mattarella the name of Paolo Savona as head of the Economy and Finance portfolio, the Sicilian jurist and politician stood up and demanded that until Savona (declared enemy of the single currency) was removed, there would be no commission to form a government for the coalition led by Di Maio and Salvini. Although Di Maio's first reaction was to demand nothing less than an "impeachment" of Mattarella (how daring ignorance can be!), in the end both parties had no choice but to accept this and Savona was finally appointed Minister for European Affairs, entrusting the orthodox Giovanni Tria with the portfolio of Economy and Finance. 

From this point on, one must prepare for any possible election. The logical thing would be for the centre-right, compact and with a parliamentary majority, to agree on the name with the main centre-left party (the PD), as the Christian Democrats (DC) once did with the PCI. But with the PD embracing the "populism" of the Five Star Movement, it is uncertain to what extent they can be counted on, although the PD knows that they do have a future while Five Star is heading for a final collapse, the result of its manifest inability to govern. 

In any case, the one who has the best chance of being elected is the one considered the "dark horse": did anyone expect Leone in 1971, Pertini in 1978, Scalfaro in 1992, Napolitano in 2006 or Mattarella in 2015? We need only recall what happened with Mattarella's election in 2015: Renzi, then prime minister, presented him to the PD's top brass the day before the first vote by a simple majority, and he was elected with an almost qualified majority (two-thirds of the assembly) in the vote the following day. So we are in for weeks and weeks of hearing names and more names, although we will advance something. This vote is the least predictable of all, since, in addition to the fact that the vote will be secret, there is the added fact that around half of the current Parliament will not be revalidating their seats, following the "taglio" approved in September 2020. This means many votes out of control, especially for the Five Star Movement, which has around 140 parliamentarians between the two chambers who have been expelled and placed in the Mixed Group, so they will vote for whomever they want. 

The only thing that can really be expected is that the new President of the Republic will come from the centre-right: just as in 2006 and 2015 a man from the centre-left was elected (either Napolitano or Mattarella) because it was the centre-left that had the largest number of MPs, now it is the centre-right that must decide. In the meantime, names are being bandied about. With Draghi stronger than ever at the head of the executive, they have no better subject to talk about. Which is no small thing, since the President of the Republic is, at the end of the day, the first figure of the State, has a seven-year mandate and has fundamental prerogatives.

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).