Eight rounds of voting – by Italian standards, that’s still not much for a presidential election in Italy, writes Sofia Ventura. After all, in the past there were 23 rounds of voting before the parliamentarians from the two chambers elected a new head of state. That, however, was in 1971, more than 50 years ago.
Nevertheless, Mattarella’s re-election and the accompanying circumstances show some fault lines within the democratic system, as the Italian political scientist and Michael Braun, consultant for the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and correspondent of the "taz" in Italy, jointly analyze. "The election shows the inability of the political party system to elect its own president," Ventura judges. This had already been shown during Mattarella’s first election, and has since intensified. The 80-year-old was actually unavailable for a second term, but conceded after the first few unsuccessful ballots. Out of a sense of duty, Ventura says.
Mario Draghi: Candidacy without support
Prime Minister Mario Draghi had previously been discussed as a candidate. The former head of the European Central Bank, however, could not even rally the parties behind him that are in power. With the exception of the post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia led by Giorgia Meloni, these are currently almost all parties represented in parliament. Michael Braun suspects that Draghi had not sounded out in advance whether the support would really be sufficient: "He probably thought his candidacy was a foregone conclusion."
Sofia Ventura, professor of political science at the University of Bologna, sees in the election and the surrounding circumstances all the signs of a profound systemic crisis. She is particularly critical of the controversy in the media: "This election has been commented on practically 24 hours a day."Politicians brought up candidates in interviews who were not even nominated for the election. Ventura even compares this "show" with the fast-moving stock trading on the stock exchange. In addition, there were conflicts in an already highly fragmented party landscape.
Paralyzing fear of new elections
One of these conflicts is also evident in Draghi’s candidacy itself, as Michael Braun analyzes. "Draghi as president could have meant new elections," explains the research fellow at the Ebert Foundation in Rome, and many would have been afraid of that. The stability of the emergency government that Draghi presides over is also based in part on this threatening backdrop. Many want to keep the government in office until the regular election date in 2023 and, on the other hand, also have a personal aversion to a "technocrat" Draghi as head of state.
Ventura and Braun also agree on the question of whether a completely different person could have become president. "Of course there would have been someone else," Ventura says – even a woman would have been considered for the job. "But one threw in the towel early on," the researcher says, referring to the few ballots. Among others, Senate President Maria Elisabetta Casellati from Silvio Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia, failed in one ballot. Mattarella – she is convinced – was the easy, safe and controllable option without risk. "It was agreed to maintain the status quo," Ventura sums up. This is also reassuring for Europe, but it also shows the limits of the fragmented party system in Italy.
Despite the obvious fault lines, Ventura and Braun also distinguish winners and losers after the election of the old new president, starting with the election loser Draghi. Sofia Ventura sees his position in the current government strengthened as he can continue to threaten new elections.
Right camp: Salvini loses, Meloni wins
Meanwhile, there is light and shade in the right-wing camp: First, Matteo Salvini failed in his attempt to forge a "right-wing alliance". "He has managed to break this alliance to both sides," Michael Braun says of the right-wing populist. This, in turn, may have benefited the far-right Giorgia Meloni, to whom Ventura attests a linear and rigorous behavior during the election. Meloni is leader of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia party and in opposition; Salvini, as leader of the Lega Nord, supports Draghi’s emergency government.
The fact that Silvio Berlusconi was at times considered as the new prime minister, but then withdrew, makes him almost a secret winner in Michael Braun’s view. Not because of his candidacy per se, but because the debate surrounding him was actually traded internationally as a possibility, as a realistic option.
One way or another, strife and debate are likely to continue in Italy’s party landscape in 2022. Braun expects tough battles among Italy’s social democrats, the Partito Democratico, among others, for places on the lists of candidates for next year’s parliamentary elections.