The High and the Mighty of the Italian presidential election

Few have been the instances since 1946 when an Italian presidential election has generated such interest as this year’s, when the tightrope is further stretched.

On the one hand, there is three-time former premier and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, sponsored by the centre right – but still undecided whether to accept or not. On the other, there is former Central Bank chief and current Prime Minister Mario Dragi. The vice president emeritus of the Constitutional Court, Paolo Maddalena, is expected to be the former Movimento Cinque Stelle parliamentarians’ choice.

None have since put their name into the ring for the election that starts on Monday, January 24, when parliament must begin voting for the new president – a figure who hovers above day-to-day politics and wields power well beyond a mandate to appoint prime ministers, Italy’s head of government.

But the country’s political class can’t agree on who that person should be.

The centre right is urging Berlusconi to formally declare whether he is bidding for the Italian presidency after Sergio Mattarella’s term ends on February 3.

The centre right is urging Berlusconi to formally declare whether he is bidding for the Italian presidency.

A summit between Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) leader Giorgia Meloni, Lega leader Matteo Salvini, and Berlusconi, said the 85-year-old billionaire businessman-turned-politician offered the “authoritativeness and experience the country deserves”. Berlusconi had been campaigning hard for the post but now seems hestitant as he smells a rat: votes garnered would make him look stupid.

He seems to be taking heed of the centre left’s dictum that with his legal woes and long hostility to the left he is too divisive to represent national unity. One of the mainstays of Article 87 of the Italian Constitution states: “The President of the Republic is the head of the state and represents national unity”, indicating a role that goes beyond the powers of guarantee and therefore assigns to the President of the Republic the task of interpreting the “sentiment” of the population.

Observers say despite his advanced age (86 next September), Berlusconi has not lost his extraordinary gift of persuasion. He is unparalleled at his skill to talk “from the gut”, exploiting the fears and hopes of his listeners and making them feel he has the simple answers to all the difficult questions – even when his claims have little or no foundation and facts are distorted at will.

Draghi is the bookies’ favourite to succeed Mattarella but many hope he will stay on as premier until the natural end of the parliamentary term in 2023 to oversee reforms needed to secure almost €200 billion in post-COVID EU recovery funds.

The President of the Chamber, Roberto Fico summoned Parliament in joint session, with the participation of the regional delegates, for next Monday at 3pm, to elect the president.

Developments between today and Monday afternoon would be interesting to watch!

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