The presidential election in Italy will take place on January 24. If Mario Draghi is willingly presented as Mattarella’s successor, the balance of power between the Italian parties could also allow access to the Quirinal to… Silvio Berlusconi.
What if Silvio Berlusconi signed his big comeback in the political arena… by becoming the next President of the Italian Republic? It is in any case a bet to which the rider 85-year-old wants to believe, as the January 24 deadline approaches. Having opted for a “360 degree” strategy, as the Italian press agency summarizes it well Adnkronos, the former President of the Italian Council intends to rely on the entire political landscape of the peninsula – including the center-left – to find the necessary means to access the Quirinal Palace.
The “squirrel” Silvio Berlusconi opts for a “360 degree” strategy
“In addition to the numbers from the centre-right, there are those from the mixed group [groupe parlementaire dans lequel sont automatiquement inclus tous les parlementaires qui ne sont membres d’aucun autre groupe] which will be decisive. We will then have to see what Renzi will do,” said Antonio Tajani, number 2 of Forza Italia (FI), a party founded by Silvio Berlusconi himself. An interview between the latter and Matteo Renzi, former center-left president of the Italian Council, would also have taken place during the end of the year holidays, according to Adnkronos, although the information is denied by Forza Italia.
The president of Forza Italia also reportedly asked his parliamentarians to scout among the 5 Star Movement (M5S) and former party members. A tactic that reminded many of the so-called “squirrel” operation, this maneuver launched by Berlusconi in 2018 to wrest from the M5S, one by one, the number of deputies necessary to overthrow the Yellow-Green government – the coalition created by an agreement between the 5 Star Movement and the League after the general elections of March 4, 2018.
the rider has also met the staff of his party in Rome on January 12, in anticipation of a summit of the center-right a few days later. If he is portrayed by those around him as determined, Silvio Berlusconi continues to scrupulously assess his troops in Parliament and the great voters he could put in his pocket to get elected.
Some of his followers, such as Gianni Letta – himself a former presidential candidate in 2006 –, however, would have told him of their doubts about his chances of reaching the Quirinal Palace, according to the Adnkronos agency.
On the right, if Matteo Salvini of the League is in favor of a Silvio Berlusconi candidacy, it is above all to maintain Mario Draghi in his current position. If the negotiations with the different parties, such as the Democratic Party and the M5S, seem to stumble, he Captain insisted: “I am working for a quick election of a center-right representative.” No President of the Italian Republic has in fact been formally centre-right. Sergio Mattarella is a former Christian Democrat, and Carlo Azelgio Ciampi – president from 1999 to 2006 – was the only tenant of the Quirinal to have been truly without a label, despite having participated in centre-left governments.
“I work confidentially for a fast and shared choice of the center-right. I think that the alternation in the Quirinal is a good thing”, underlined the federal secretary of the League. He then urged party leaders to come to a round table to discuss the nominations.
Regarding the hypothesis of Mario Draghi as a possible future head of state, Matteo Salvini considered that the place of the current President of the Council was in his current position: “I think he should continue and do what he is doing , he cannot abandon the work in progress.” “If I were Draghi, I would be more concerned about the price of energy than the Quirinal. I hope that the government will give this answer before the election of the President of the Republic. We need a budget gap of 30 billion, not a decree of 3 billion”, continued Matteo Salvini.
During the centre-right summit held on January 14, political parties such as the League and Fratelli d’Italia confirmed their support for Silvio Berlusconi and, consequently, proposed his candidacy. In a joint statement quoted by La Repubblica, they thus “agreed that Mr. [Silvio] Berlusconi is the ideal person to exercise the high office in this difficult period, with the authority and the experience that the country deserves and that Italians expect. They therefore ask him to lift the reservation he has maintained until now”.
“The center-right political forces will strive to find the widest convergence within the Parliament and will also ask the Presidents of the House and the Senate to take all initiatives so that the 1009 voters can exercise their constitutional right to vote” , adds the text. On the side of the League, Matteo Salvini now pleads for the ballot to be as quick as possible: “We will be 210 in the Chamber and if [Silvio] Berlusconi decides to run, we will be 210 to vote for him. We will be the most compact and granite party”.
A statement that made the center-left react. Enrico Letta, secretary of the Democratic Party, thus declared that it was necessary “to adopt a constructive approach and to bring everyone around the table to find a common solution”.
Mario Draghi wants to be the “grandfather at the service of the institutions”
Because if Mario Draghi is sometimes presented as the favorite for the race for the presidency, things do not seem so assured with regard to the balance of power between the political parties. Although the former President of the ECB and now President of the Italian Council declared himself available in December to occupy the Quirinal Palace, he nevertheless remains very discreet on this issue, concentrating on his current position and the management of the health crisis, as highlighted by the daily La Repubblica January 12.
The self-proclaimed “grandfather in the service of the institutions” now refuses to speak publicly on the name of the next President of the Italian Republic despite pressing requests during his last press conference. Mario Draghi stressed the need to preserve the national unity that his government symbolizes according to him.
However, poll experts do not give Mario Draghi an easy winner. In an interview given to Adnkronos, Nicola Piepoli, president of the polling institute of the same name, notably underlined that the President of the Italian Council had “40% probability of becoming the new Head of State”, i.e. the same percentage than Silvio Berlusconi.
The hypothesis of a second Mattarella mandate divides the 5 Star Movement
The third hypothesis could be that of a second term for the current president Sergio Mattarella. According to Italian practice, however, a President of the Republic never serves a second term; the only exception to the rule was Giorgio Napolitano in 2013, who had to begin a second transitional term from which he resigned in 2015, until the political parties found him a consensual successor. However, the principal concerned has already made it known that he refused to seek a new mandate.
Yet it is the proposal that shakes Giuseppe Conte’s 5 Star Movement. Launched by M5S senators, it was strongly rejected by other members of the party in the lower house, who gave their confidence to their president to determine the candidate that the M5S would support. Group leader Davide Crippa, however, said that “the Senate assembly was important”, and that the name of Sergio Mattarella was “a guarantee”. As for the possibility of a vote of the members of the party as in 2013 and 2015, Giuseppe Conte does not seem to want to take up this solution, understands La Repubblica, because it could call into question the relationship between the M5S and other political parties, in particular the Democratic Party. Enrico Letta of the Democratic Party and Giuseppe Conte are indeed both opposed to a candidacy of the Rider. A contrary decision from M5S activists could undermine the agreement between the two political parties that are part of the Draghi government. During the meeting of the parliamentary groups of the M5S, the “no” to Silvio Berlusconi was practically unanimous among the speakers.
The League also expressed its skepticism about this candidacy, through the voice of Riccardo Molinari, group leader in the Lower House, quoted by La Stampa “I would say that’s a rather bizarre assumption. We have always said that the case of [Giorgio] Napolitano was outstanding. President Mattarella has already expressed his opinion on the matter.”
The centre-right’s joint declaration finally proposing the candidacy of Silvio Berlusconi on January 14 made Giuseppe Conte jump, denouncing its “partisan” dimension which would slow down “the negotiations in progress to reach a solution and a personality the as widely shared as possible. The candidacy of the Cavaliere is in his eyes “unacceptable”. “Silvio Berlusconi as President of the Republic is for us an inadmissible and impracticable option. The centre-right must not block Italy. There is a country here that is suffering and waiting for answers, we cannot play on the backs of families and businesses,” he tweeted.
Silvio Berlusconi went to the Presidenza della Repubblica è per noi un’opzione irricevibile e unproponibile. Il centrodestra non blocchi l’Italia. Qui fuori c’è un Paese che soffre e attende riposte, non possiamo giocare sulle spalle di famiglie e imprese.
— Giuseppe Conte (@GiuseppeConteIT) January 14, 2022
Matteo Salvini, however, renewed his invitation to discuss around a round table: “I renew and will renew the invitation to Letta, Conte and Renzi to meet around a table […] without vetoing a priori“, did he declare.
A voting system that gives pride of place to the game of parties
Suffrage by indirect suffrage, the presidential election brings together an electoral body made up of parliamentarians – ie 630 deputies and 315 senators – plus 58 regional delegates. It can last several rounds, the first being fixed by decree on January 24 at 3 p.m. The election is acquired by a majority of two-thirds of the assembly in the first three rounds, by an absolute majority thereafter, which explains the interest of Silvio Berlusconi’s “squirrel operation”. It is, as explained by Corriere della Sera, the “individual hunt for potential Parliament voters which should lead to it exceeding the quota of 505 – an absolute majority of voters – by the fourth vote for the Quirinal, given that the two-thirds required in the first three are almost impossible”
Such an election, close to the ballot that France knew under the Fourth Republic, however locks the presidency of the Italian Republic into the game of parties as this new election shows again. Internal negotiations, which sometimes flirt with the indirect confrontation of political forces, thus offer fertile ground for institutional blockages, as was the case during the re-election by default of Giorgio Napolitano in 2013. The President of the Italian Republic is thus placed at the heart of partisan issues.
If the President of the Italian Republic is compared to the “president of the chrysanthemums” of France under the Third and Fourth Republics because of his absence of real prerogatives, Sergio Mattarella has however innovated in the practice of power. Playing on the interpretation of the Constitution, the Italian president had blocked the composition of a government between the League and the 5 Star Movement in 2018 which was to include an openly sovereignist economist: Paolo Savona. Pretending that the Constitution of which he is the guarantor ensured Italy’s participation in European construction, Sergio Mattarella considered that it would have been contrary to the text to proceed with the appointment of such a minister, opening a period of uncertainty that the constituents had not foreseen at the time and could lead to a political crisis. If this practice were to continue, the President of the Italian Republic could then indeed have a power to block the Italian political game in the years to come.
Fabrizio Tribuzio – Bugatti
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