Italy: The ‘Draghi short circuit’ in Italian politics | International

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The problem and the solution to the challenges of the coming times in Italy bear the same name: Mario Draghi. The current president of the Council of Ministers would see no harm in being president of the Republic. Or at least he has not denied it, as he did seven years ago when his name came up. “I am a grandfather at the service of the Republic,” he slipped when asked about it a few weeks ago. It is a prestigious name, generates significant unanimity and has all the qualities to be. It is the solution to the next seven years in the Quirinal Palace, whose president is elected from January 24. The problem is that his appointment – it would be the first time that a prime minister goes directly to the presidency of the Republic – would leave a post vacant for which no one is able to find a substitute and could cause a short circuit that would end with early elections and the return to classic Italian turbulence. There are more and more voices calling for him to stay where he is: inside and outside of Italy.

The legislature has not finished (a year and a half is missing) and there are still pending reforms to be executed. Also the beginning of the rollout of the Recovery Plan with European funds – from Brussels what Italy can do with the more than 200,000 million euros allocated is being closely watched – and the new phase of the battle against covid-19. Draghi himself, who has given stability and international credibility to the country this year, outlined some of these challenges at last Monday’s press conference. But nobody knows if in two weeks he will still be the prime minister of Italy, if the government will fall or if everything will continue exactly as it is (this would happen because the current head of state, Sergio Mattarella, accepts at 80 years of age to extend his mandate, as requested more and more voices).

The uncertainty, for the first time in a year, is total. There are small signals from abroad and the risk premium has risen 30 points since October. The former president of the ECB, a master detecting the changing mood of the markets, alleges that the legislature will continue whether or not he heads the Executive. But it seems complicated. Even more so if one attends to the need of some partners of this Government, such as Matteo Salvini, to mark their own profile, distancing themselves from the unitary line of recent months. Especially if Draghi, who was approached a year ago for his enormous prestige and impartiality, is no longer the unifying force of that majority.

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Parliamentarians are increasingly convinced that the solution to avoid chaos —or the fall of the Executive— is to convince Mattarella to extend his mandate. “The fundamental problem is that Draghi will not be able to find a substitute to finish the legislature calmly. If you choose a technician as the Minister of Economy [Daniele Franco] it will seem that he wants to drive you from the Quirinal. And a politician will be difficult for the rest of the parties to accept. So voting for him would mean going to elections. And the parliamentarians, whose majority would not repeat after this legislature, are not willing to commit suicide happily, ”says a veteran and expert Democratic Party deputy.

Mattarella has already said publicly that he does not want to repeat. But in his entourage it has been pointed out for months that if the situation were extreme and endangered the good progress of the country, he could consider extending his mandate for some time as a service to the Republic.

The latest to demand that the current prime minister remain in his post has been Silvio Berlusconi, who now threatens to become an agent of chaos if his wishes are not fulfilled. Il Cavaliere has insisted on being President of the Republic and absolutely no one around him dares to tell him that it may not be a good idea. He is 85 years old, has gone through several legal proceedings (some are still ongoing) and weighs on his biography a firm conviction and a disqualification for tax fraud. At first, most took it as an extravagant hypothesis that returned the flavor of the late twentieth century to current politics. Now, however, it has become a monumental problem for the right-wing coalition (Liga, Forza Italia and Brothers of Italy), which is in danger of disintegrating while Il Cavaliere tries at all costs to obtain support.

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Berlusconi has activated his machinery and on Tuesday he settled in Rome to campaign – he is the first in the history of the Republic to do it so brazenly – and seduce possible undecided parliamentarians from other parties. Beyond his name, the right does not have another clear candidate right now. He doesn’t allow it. But none of his associates want him, including many members of Forza Italia. The problem is that the three-time prime minister has already started with the threats. If they don’t propose him, he will break the coalition, they assure those around him. And if Draghi were finally chosen, he launched himself on Monday afternoon, he would cause a tsunami in the Unity Executive, removing the three ministers from his party and creating a situation of difficult balance that would lead to early elections.

In the ranks of the League and Brothers of Italy begin to lose patience with the matter. “It’s a huge problem for the center-right,” says one of the coalition’s heavyweights. “He is stubborn and wants to do it at all costs, but it is an absurd idea. Now he’s blackmailing us that if we don’t support him, he’ll blow up the coalition. And on Monday he dared to extort money from Draghi as well”, insists this parliamentarian. “It has generated a tremendous blockade. And if he were president it would be a problem, also for the center-right and for the country. Imagine the risk premium… But unfortunately you have possibilities. Right now there is a Parliament full of people who will not repeat in office and who are willing to listen to your proposal”.

The members of the two Chambers meet in Montecitorio (the Chamber of Deputies) starting on February 24. There are 950 parliamentarians to which are added senators for life. All under rules that allow lengthening to infinity the daily votes -it is not yet known if there will be a vote on Saturday and Sunday as well- to reach an agreement and in which the quorum necessary decreases as progress is made unsuccessfully towards the election of the candidate. In the first three, two thirds are needed: that is, 673 out of 1,008 parliamentarians. From the fourth, serve only half plus one. That’s where the surprises can come.

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Berlusconi’s entourage believes that he can count on the numbers, especially if he manages to catch the mixed group and the ranks of the discontented 5-Star Movement. And the reality is that the blockade situation, added to the casualties that may occur due to covid on the days of the vote, can benefit you.

A vote threatened by covid

The ritual for the election of the President of the Republic is one of the most colorful and important institutional ceremonies in Italy. The parliamentarians of the two chambers, added to the regional representatives, parade through the Chamber of Deputies in a daily vote until the necessary quorum is reached —two thirds in the first three rounds and an absolute majority in the rest—.

The Constitution is strict in the methods and does not allow the date to be postponed once it has been set by the president of the Chamber of Deputies. The problem is that the numbers of covid infections in Italy are skyrocketing and it is expected that around 10% of the 1,008 parliamentarians summoned will have to be absent on one of the days during which it is prolonged.

Those responsible for the cameras have not established any alternative at the moment. Solutions such as a kind of hotel for positives with the right to vote or telematic suffrage have been proposed in the media, but it does not seem that they will prosper.

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