Yesterday morning, the Italian Parliament elected the Republic’ s 12th president: Sergio Matterella. He was elected with 665 votes out of 1009, but 505 would have been enough: after three inconclusive rounds of votes, a candidate only needs to get a simple majority to become President, not an absolute one.
Former President Giorgio Napolitano was the only one in the history of the Republic to be elected twice. He said from the start that he would stay in office only to allow institutional reforms to be passed (as a matter of fact, they have not been finalised yet, but they are close). He resigned in January, after largely anticipating that he would do so.
Mattarella’s election has been called a “political victory” of PM Matteo Renzi, because it was Renzi’s idea to nominate him. Every commentator is saying that Renzi made a very clever move and, overall, a good choice.
Newly-elected Sergio Mattarella and former President Giorgio Napolitano
It was a clever move indeed, because there is very little to object: Mattarella is a perfectly-suited individual for the presidential role. Even being relatively low-profile works to his advantage.
Sergio Mattarella, 73, Sicilian, was a Christian Democratic MP, and he served as a Minister more than once. After the Christian Democratic party disappeared, he joined the newly founded centre-left Margherita, and later on helped to create the current Democratic Party. In 2011, he became a judge of the Constitutional Court.
He is known for his work as a Mafia prosecutor, after his own brother was killed by organized crime.
There is also a good precedent for Mattarella: when in 1990 the Andreotti’s government passed the “Mammi’ law”, a law regulating the Italian media sector according to which Berlusconi’s dominance in the market was de facto legitimised, Matteralla, who back then was the Minister of Education, resigned in sign of protest. These sort of things, which might sound quite normal in the UK, are extremely rare in Italy.
Tim Parks, a British journalist, said that in Britain calling the new President “an honest person” would be an offence to the entire country, because it would imply that someone dishonest either was there before or, in any case, could be there (http://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2015/02/01/sergio-mattarella-scrittore-tim-parks-famoso-per-renzi/1388355/). In Italy, it is almost as if we should be thanking the Parliament for electing someone that we can live with.
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia did not support Mattarella’s candidacy, although about 40 of his MPs are thought to have voted for him in the end (the President is elected with a secret ballot, so it is very common to see people claiming they would vote X and then vote Y). Also Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement did not vote for Mattarella. They held an online consultation with voters and the candidate who emerged from it was judge Federico Imposimato, honorary President of the Supreme Court. The Five Star Movement was united in supporting him, but as mentioned, at the fourth round of votes a simple majority is enough to elect the President, and they had to admit defeat.
The first “tests” for the newly-elected President will soon be there. Commentators are now wondering whether Mattarella will sign the electoral reform Parliament is currently working on, nicknamed the “Italicum”, which in many respects is quite similar to the current Porcellum (http://italianfactsrd.blogspot.it/2013/04/italian-electoral-system-how-porcellum.html). As a Constitutional judge, Mattarella declared the Porcellum “unconstitutional”. While the President of the Republic in his role as Head of State does not play a role in initiating legislation, he can refuse to sign a bill and send it back to Parliament to be amended if he considers it "unconstitutional", since his job is ultimately to make sure that the Constitution is always respected. We should, then, expect Mattarella to send back the Italicum. More in general, the country is waiting to see if he will be willing to assert himself, or of he will just sign whatever the executive places in front of him. Needless to say, an "Anti-Mafia President" would be a blessing, considering the latest corruption scandals.
Good luck to President Mattarella, and, as always, good luck, Italy.