Leading up to Italy’s presidential election, President Sergio Mattarella had plans that did not involve serving a second term. The 80-year-old president made this known, posting images of a packed-up presidential palace and making sure to be spotted on house hunting excursions. But after a week of struggles in Parliament to elect his replacement, Mattarella was asked to stay and accepted.
The announcement of Mattarella’s return came after significant debate and numerous failed rounds of voting in Parliament. The Guardian reports that eight rounds of voting took place before Mattarella was elected.
The voting struggles came after many failed backroom negotiations between party members, and even an amendment to Italy’s voting threshold, reports The New York Times. When it became clear to Italy’s voting members of Parliament that no party had the votes to obtain the before-needed supermajority, the threshold was lowered to a simple majority. Even after this, it took several days for the electors to select someone, turning against candidates even from their own parties.
The job is a mostly ceremonial role, according to BBC News. However, in times of crisis, the president takes on much more impactful duties, including selecting key government actors like the prime minister and vetoing mandates. Instability in Italy has led many elected officials to recognize the importance of having a consistent and predictable leader in place to maintain the status quo.
Italy’s political stability is shaking as a response to the events of the past several years. Currently battling their fourth wave of COVID-19, Politico reports that the nation is facing significant pressure to protect its economic growth and recovery, as well as complying with the European Union’s post-pandemic investment fund. Another issue lies in the fact that no party has a clear majority in Italy’s parliament, a reality exemplified by Parliament’s struggles in producing a new president.
Current Prime Minister Mario Draghi expressed interest in the presidential position, but even members of his own party did not support his bid as they could not see another suitable candidate for prime minister if Draghi was elected. Draghi will now continue his tenure as Prime Minister, serving on what delegate Dino Latini calls “a winning team,” adds Politico.
Many political leaders have thanked the president for remaining in his position, acknowledging that a crisis that has been carefully avoided for the time being. Reuters reports that Italian leaders believe that Mattarella’s reelection will help stabilize the Italian economy, as it avoids a radical change to the country’s political system. However, it has exposed deep rifts within Italy’s Democratic party, causing some disruption to the country’s political norm.
This is not the first time that Italy has struggled to elect a new president. Al Jazeera reports that a very similar situation occurred during the presidential election of 2013, when members of Parliament went to then-president Giorgio Napolitano requesting that he continue serving as president, as they could not come to a voting decision on his successor. Napolitano accepted their pleas, eventually resigning two years later after the election of a new government allowed Mattarella to be elected.
Mattarella’s future could emulate the career path of Napolitano, but it may depend on what the next few years hold. The New York Times adds that recent political cartoons have depicted Mattarella in humorous, hostage-like situations, hiding in his new apartment to avoid the calls of political leaders, and tying bedsheets together to escape the windows of the presidential palace. Mattarella has been a unifying factor in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which combined with the party’s inability to reach a majority, may see his tenure extend even further.