In search of a President: Renzi's great victory & Berlusconi’s failure
The judge of the Constitutional Court and former politician Sergio Mattarella was elected as new Italian President on 3 February 2015.
As expected, former President Giorgio Napolitano had resigned two weeks earlier after nine years as head of the State and almost two years after he was elected for a second mandate. Never before had a president been elected twice, and that was the consequence of the Parliament being unable to agree on a new candidate on 2013.
Thus, soon after Napolitano’s resignation, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi got to work masterminding a smooth presidential election. It was not an easy task, for he had to propose a candidate who would not cause disagreement within PM’s own party and even get the approval of other parties. Renzi knew he could face the opposition of members of his own party.
Renzi talked to Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the party Forza Italia (Forward, Italy!), to look for a common candidate, but they failed to agree. Finally, Renzi made public his choice: Mattarella, a candidate on whom his party and other minor parties could agree on, but Berlusconi could not. Mattarella was elected with an overwhelming majority by representatives of Renzi’s Democratic Party, other minor parties that support the government and even a leftist opposition party.
Berlusconi and his party are in the opposition, but had struck a deal with the government coalition about major institutional reforms that are underway in the legislature, and wished they could have a say on the new president as well. Thus, the former prime minister and his fellow party members were outraged against Renzi after Mattarella was elected. Berlusconi said the agreement on the institutional reforms is over, and Renzi and the democrats answered they will go on with the reforms nonetheless.
Mattarella’s election was described by the press as a great victory of Renzi, because he had succeeded in gathering a large consensus towards his candidate in parliament, first of all by his own party, which had been quite litigious lately: several democrats had shown uneasiness about Renzi’s attitude, politics and policies. Besides, Mattarella is not unpopular, just as other possible candidates. Even members and the leader of the opposition party Five Stars Movement who usually harshly criticize Renzi’s government and did not vote Mattarella, admitted that he could be a decent president.
Berlusconi’s failure to make his party weigh on the election caused harsh criticism from members of Forza Italia. Animosity is growing within the party, while polls suggest it could lose its position as the leading rightist party in the country in near future.
Mattarella: a discrete arbiter?
Sergio Mattarella was elected member of the Constitutional Court in 2011. He is a former professor of law, member of the parliament, minister and deputy prime minister. During the so called “First Republic”, he was a member of the leftist wing of the centrist Christian Democratic Party. Then, he was among the Catholic and centrist politicians who contributed to building up the new left-of-center coalition during the Nineties.
His brother Piersanti was the governor of Sicily when he was murdered by the Mafia in 1980. Since then, Mattarella’s name has been linked to the fight against the Mafia.
It seems like he was not well known by Italian citizens, before Renzi made his name as a new president. Indeed, Mattarella seems to be a discrete and taciturn person. He did not use to show up on TV, and there was only a single video of him on Youtube before his election. This can be a double-edged sword. He still lacks popularity, since many people did not even know him. But this can play at his favour: the Italian political class is highly unpopular nowadays. Mattarella has been at the background of politics for several years, thus, he can now start with an almost spotless image to get the people’s approval.
His personal attitude and his first almost silent days as the president let many think he will refrain from interfering with day-to-day politics, and will play his main role as a guarantor of the constitution. He told the parliament in his first speech as the new president: 'I will be an arbiter, but the players should help me'.