On the third day of the ballot, there is still no suitable candidate for the highest office in the Italian state who can command a majority. Prime Minister Draghi moves from the government chair to the Quirinal Palace?
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IMAGO / Italy Photo Press
It resembles a conclave. Unlike the election of the German president, the election of the Italian head of state can drag on for days. As with the election of the pope, the number of ballots per day is limited – in 1971, for example, the election of Giovanni Leone lasted 23 ballots, i.e. 15 days. The seat of the president is the Quirinalspalast, the former summer residence of the popes, in which in former times also the one or other conclave took place. And similar to the cardinals of the conclave, the deputies and senators write the name of the candidate on the paper. The Italian election ritual also has other peculiarities: If none of the candidates put forward meets the voters’ expectations, they throw a white slip of paper into the ballot box.
Independent candidates dominate office since 1994 as parties fall out
To German ears, this sounds like a children’s birthday party, but the Italians believe they have a certain freedom and openness in the election, even if it is only celebrated symbolically. While in Germany the president is already decided before the Federal Assembly, the Italians have been taking a particularly "open-ended" approach for some decades now. A government of national unity rules in Rome, but the election for the Quirinal Palace is more fragmented than ever. The "hot phase" does not begin until Thursday, because then a two-thirds majority no longer applies, but an absolute majority is enough to win the election.
In addition, there is another peculiarity: Italy sees the beginning of the 1990s as a domestic political caesura, in which a transition from the old party model of the Cold War – characterized by Christian Democracy and the Socialists, respectively – took place. Communists – to that of a bourgeois-right and a left-liberal-socialist bloc took place; a transition in which the corruption cases of the mentioned Craxi were not completely innocent. At the same time a trauma rules the camp right of the center: Since this change the "new" parties – the Forza Italia of Silvio Berlusconi, the Lega of Matteo Salvini and the Fratelli d’Italia of Giorgia Meloni – could not lift a single time a president from their rows into the office.
Instead, the "Second Republic," which began with the shaking up of the party system starting in 1994, has shimmied its way through the political scene via former Christian Democrats and independent candidates. Giorgio Napolitano, who held office from 2006 to 2015, had even been a member of the Communist Party until 1991. His re-election in April 2013 was mainly due to the fact that the various political parties were unable to find a common candidate – Napolitano was in a sense forced to run again, even though the then 88-year-old head of state did not want a second mandate. A situation that may yet experience a new edition.
Berlusconi’s shattered dream of the presidency
Two factors make the presidential election particularly difficult. First of all, there is the Berlusconi factor. The parties of the right camp had actually wanted to nominate the multiple prime minister. This was an old deal between Forza Italia and its allies from the Lega and the Fratelli d’Italia. Understandably, however, more and more members of the alliance partners doubted whether Berlusconi would be able to land enough opposing votes to make his candidacy a serious project – because neither the right nor the left camps have a clear majority in Italy’s two-chamber system. Berlusconi, realizing at last that his dream would not come true, withdrew the plan before the first round of the elections.
Draghi as the left’s last straw
Things look even worse for the left camp. There was no candidate with any traction there from the start. Even the agreements between the socialist Partito Democratico and the left-wing alternative Movimento 5 Stelle tended to fizzle out. The name of intelligence chief Elisabetta Belloni keeps circulating in the media, which could also arouse sympathy in the right-wing camp. But a completely different name is mentioned much more frequently: Mario Draghi.
In fact, the idea circulated in the media last week that Italy’s current prime minister might move to the Quirinal Palace. Draghi’s appointment a year ago by President Mattarella had already been conditional, because Draghi was clearly not interested in having to deal too much with the wrangling and intrigues of the traditionally Machiavellian backroom politics of the Italian parties. Draghi will turn 75 next September and, for personal reasons as well, is likely to long to bring his government work to a close soon. The move to the presidency opens up the possibility for him to continue pulling the important strings without having to toil in the daily fray.
Speculation of a government crisis
The right-wing camp is therefore pursuing several strategies. On the one hand, there is the justified speculation that the government in Rome could wobble after Forza Italia and Lega leave, should the left-wing liberals of Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva also have no desire for the Socialists and the Movimento 5 Stelle to take the helm. This would mean new elections, from which the right-wing conservative Fratelli d’Italia of Giorgia Meloni in particular would benefit. Draghi’s departure would therefore be a veritable government crisis, the outcome of which is not yet foreseeable – except, perhaps, that Draghi, as president, would have a say in who succeeds him. He would then have the final say on the appointment of the head of government.
On the other hand, there are tangible negotiations, namely between Salvini and Draghi. Salvini is said to have demanded that there be restructuring in the cabinet in favor of the right if Draghi wants the Lega’s votes. This would include, in particular, the replacement of Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese with a more migration-critical person. Draghi can’t and won’t get involved – so far? Perhaps Draghi suspects that in the end the profiteer of a change to the presidency Salvini and Co. could be, should he give too many concessions to the camp right of center. The former ECB chief does not need to put himself in unnecessary danger. "Whatever it takes" does not necessarily apply to one’s biography.
Because there is one more rule that the Italian presidential election has adopted from the conclave: Whoever goes into the conclave as pope comes out as cardinal. Given the many debates surrounding Draghi’s entry into the Quirinal Palace, the Jesuit student should be wise enough to remember this bon mot.