Quirinale romance, part IV: ten days to vote

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There are ten days to go before the vote to elect the new head of State.

Lower house speaker Roberto Fico convened the Parliament in a joint session on Monday, 24 January, when MPs and regional delegates will be called to express themselves on the successor of Sergio Mattarella following the anti-Covid rules determined by the college of Quaestors of the Chamber and Senate. One vote per day, maximum two hundred people in the Chamber floor and dedicated stands to protect from contagion.

The election of the President of the Republic is one of the focal points of Italian political life. A secular rite destined to take on even more value when celebrated in a time of pandemic and overt crisis of the national party system.

In the last year it was precisely the concomitance of these two events that led to the advent of the national unity government chaired by Mario Draghi, whose stay in Palazzo Chigi is now intertwined with the outcome of the vote for the Colle expected at the end of this month.

In this lot with a still largely uncertain outcome, the current Prime Minister is certainly the most prominent candidate although his election to the Quirinale cannot be taken for granted. No party leader wanted to endorse the candidacy of the former head of the ECB, a sign that the games are still open and that for Italian politics the vote on the head of State represents the ideal opportunity to regain one’s autonomy after last year’s sort of “compulsory administration”.

Thus, the election of the President of the Republic increasingly resembles a referendum on Draghi. His election is a suggestion that carries with it several questions: the name of the prime minister appointed to replace him; the government format that will come after him (political or technical?); the perimeter of the majority that will support that executive; lastly, the eventuality of running into early elections.

The uncertainty is fueled by the fact that many MPs see the current head of government as the only guarantee of survival of the legislature. Proof of this are the political tensions experienced by the ruling coalition at the end of 2021, which radically transformed the duties of the prime minister compared to those assigned to him by Mattarella just under a year ago. From orchestra director called to mark the relaunch of Italy to a simple mediator of disputes between coalition allies.

Meanwhile, on the eve of the vote, the heads of the three main political forces that sit in Parliament (M5S, Lega and PD) are scrambling to find an alternative name to that of Draghi, to avoid the inevitable implications of his transfer to the Quirinale. Conte, Salvini, and Letta also have the common need to exorcise the risk of going to the lower house in no order and to keep their respective rivals at bay (in order: Di Maio, Meloni and Renzi) ahead of the complex game that lies ahead.

From this point of view, republican history teaches that the inability to agree to proceed immediately with the election of a shared and recognized head of State can lead to immediate negative repercussions. It is no coincidence that difficult elections (Segni in 1962, Saragat in 1964, Leone in 1971) and shaky agreements (Scalfaro in 1992) had disastrous effects on the political decision-makers of the time.

As the days go by and in the absence of relevant news, even the hypothesis of Silvio Berlusconi’s candidacy begins to become credible, at least as a reflection of the amount of criticism received in recent days by the leader of Forza Italia after being long ignored. More than his opponents, however, the former prime minister will have to deal above all with the attitude of his allies – who, apart from their public support professions, do not disdain the idea that even his candidacy could be shot down by the secret ballot.

For the moment, the alternatives remain well covered, in the awareness of not having to discover them unless the first votes on Draghi go wrong.