Italy (President) 2013

Indirect presidential elections were held in Italy between April 18 and 20, 2013. The Italian President’s role is essentially symbolic, acting as the guarantor of national unity. The President, does, however, appoint the Prime Minister (who must then seek the confidence of both houses of Parliament) and has the power to call parliamentary elections. Fitting this profile, most Presidents tend to be retired politicians or respected public servants, who stand above daily partisan politics and are widely popular. The President serves a seven year term. While there are no term limits, until this year no President had run for reelection.

The President is elected indirectly by an electoral college composed of both houses of Parliament and 58 delegates from each of Italy’s regions – each region sends 3 delegates (usually two from the governing majority, and one from the regional opposition), with the exception of the Aosta Valley which has only a single delegate. This year, the electoral college was made up of 1,007 members. On the first three ballots, a presidential candidate must obtain a two-thirds majority (of all members of the electoral college, including any who are absent), in the fourth and subsequent ballots, an absolute majority (of all members of the electoral college, including any who are absent) is sufficient. Two ballots are held each day.

In 2006, Giorgio Napolitano, a former member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and a respected senior politician, was elected on the fourth ballot. Napolitano is 86 years old.

The legislative election on February 24-25 resulted in total deadlock. The centre-left coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani won a large majority in the Chamber of Deputies, by virtue of the electoral system’s national majority bonus, but he failed to win an absolute majority in the Senate. In Italy, a Prime Minister cannot govern unless he has the confidence of both houses of Parliament. Some had thought that Bersani might have been able to put together a short-term government by getting individual members of Beppe Grillo’s new radical anti-establishment/anti-corruption Five Star Movement (M5S) to prop him up before new elections could be held. On March 22, President Giorgio Napolitano asked Bersani to form a government. However, by this point, it was already clear that Bersani would not be able to obtain the Senate’s confidence, given that he had rejected a grand coalition with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right bloc and had been unable to win any M5S senators over to his side. On March 28, Napolitano took act of Bersani’s failure and announced that he would look for alternative solutions. In the meantime, Prime Minister Mario Monti, who has served as a technocratic non-partisan Prime Minister since Berlusconi’s resignation in November 2011, stayed on as caretaker.

In this context of unbreakable deadlock, both houses of Parliament and 58 regional delegates assembled to elect a President. Giorgio Napolitano had announced that he would not stand for re-election.

In the electoral college, Bersani’s centre-left coalition had 493 seats, against 269 for Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition, 163 for Grillo’s M5S, 71 seats for Mario Monti’s hapless centrist/centre-right coalition and 11 seats were held by other parties. The ‘magic number’ in the first three ballots was 672 votes, the magic number in the later ballots was 504 votes.

First ballot

Prior to the first ballot, Bersani and Berlusconi agreed to support Franco Marini, a former Christian Democrat (DC) trade unionist now associated with the centre-left (he served as President of the Senate between 2006 and 2008). Theoretically, Marini should have been elected easily on the first ballot with support from the left, right and centre. However, Bersani’s decision to pick Marini and his deal with Berlusconi was yet another example of Bersani’s utter ineptitude. Marini was a poor choice to begin with. In a context where Italian voters are fed up with old politicians and ‘politics as usual’, Marini was the representative of the old politics: he is 80 years old and he has been in politics for decades. Matteo Renzi, the young mayor of Florence and Bersani’s main rival within the Democratic Party (PD), said that Marini came from the ‘last century’ of Italian politics. Left Ecology Freedom (SEL), a small left-wing party led by Nichi Vendola and the junior member of Bersani’s coalition, was also displeased by the pick. However, what made Marini toxic to so many electors were the circumstances in which he was picked. Bersani, pressured by Vendola (and common sense), had previously said that he didn’t want to form a government with Berlusconi’s scandal-plagued centre-right. However, Bersani turned around and proved that he was quite willing to work with Berlusconi behind closed doors. Many left-wingers and grillistis decried a corrupt bargain.

Grillo’s M5S held an online primary to allow their members to choose their presidential candidate. After the top two finishers (Milena Gabanelli and Gino Strada) indicated that they did not wish to run, the M5S turned to Stefano Rodotà, a former Communist and respected jurist. The SEL, which opposed Marini’s candidacy because of the corrupt bargain with Berlusconi, backed Rodotà, who has a good reputation on the left.

Candidate Votes
Franco Marini 521
Stefano Rodotà 240
Sergio Chiamparino 41
Romano Prodi 14
Emma Bonino 13
Massimo D’Alema 12
Giorgio Napolitano 10
Anna Finocchiaro 7
Anna Maria Cancellieri 2
Mario Monti 2
Scattering 14
Blank/invalid 119

The first ballot was a disaster for Bersani. Marini, who could have been elected on the first ballot with the support of the left, right and centre (Monti), fell far short of the 672 votes required to win. While votes are secret and we cannot know which left-wingers or right-wingers didn’t vote for Marini, we can presume that there were rebels on both sides – perhaps more so on the left. Many of those rebels cast blank or invalid votes, or supported other (undeclared) candidates. Sergio Chiamparino, the former PD mayor of Turin, received 41 votes, most likely from renziani members of the PD. Renzi had indicated his preference for Chiamparino.

Second and third ballots

Candidate Votes (2nd) Votes (3rd)
Stefano Rodotà 230 250
Sergio Chiamparino 90 4
Massimo D’Alema 38 34
Franco Marini 15 6
Alessandra Mussolini 15 5
Romano Prodi 13 22
Emma Bonino 10 4
Sergio De Caprio 9 7
Giorgio Napolitano 4 12
Anna Maria Cancellieri 0 9
Scattering 92 84
Blank/invalid 432 512

With the failure of the Marini option and no other candidate likely to win outright on the second and third ballots, the left and right largely sat out the vote by casting blank or invalid ballots although some voted, in fairly large numbers, for other candidates: Chiamparino, former centre-left Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, Alessandra Mussolini or Romano Prodi. The M5S and SEL continued to support Stefano Rodotà.

Fourth ballot

For the fourth ballot, which could be won with a simple majority, the left – both the PD (including Renzi) and SEL – agreed to support Romano Prodi, a respected former Prime Minister and a former President of the European Commission. Berlusconi did not approve of the pick and the right announced that it would continue to sit out the vote by casting blank/invalid votes. Theoretically, Prodi could have won by taking all centre-left electors and adding a dozen or so votes, which could have come from the centre. Things did not work out that way.

Candidate Votes
Romano Prodi 395
Stefano Rodotà 213
Anna Maria Cancellieri 78
Massimo D’Alema 15
Franco Marini 13
Giorgio Napolitano 2
Scattering 7
Blank/invalid 19

Prodi won only 395 votes, falling far short of the 504 votes which he would have needed to win. Of the 1007 members, only 732 turned out to vote on April 19 (right-wingers likely did not participate). In retrospect, it appears that Prodi’s candidacy was a ploy engineered by Bersani’s rivals within the PD – apparently led by Massimo D’Alema, the PD’s top backroom wheeler-and-dealer – to scuttle Bersani’s leadership and force him out after the disaster of the Marini candidacy (and so many other factors, like blowing a big lead in the general election). The ploy worked. Rosy Bindi (president of the PD) and Bersani resigned their leadership positions within the party. However, in the meantime, Italy still needed a President.

Fifth ballot

Candidate Votes
Stefano Rodotà 210
Giorgio Napolitano 20
Rosario Monteleone 15
Emma Bonino 9
Claudio Zin 4
Anna Maria Cancellieri 3
Massimo D’Alema 2
Franco Marini 2
Scattering 14
Blank/invalid 462

While the politicians were actively negotiating amongst themselves to find a way out of the crisis they had placed themselves in, the fifth ballot on the morning of April 20 saw no resolution. The right did not participate, which meant that only 741 out of 1007 members actually showed up, and the left cast invalid or blank votes.

Sixth ballot

In the meantime, the politicians – Bersani, Berlusconi and Monti – met with Napolitano, the outgoing President, to find an exit route. They managed to convince Napolitano to come out of retirement and take the unprecedented move of accepting a second term in office.

Candidate Votes
Giorgio Napolitano 738
Stefano Rodotà 217
Sergio De Caprio 8
Massimo D’Alema 4
Romano Prodi 2
Scattering 10
Blank/invalid 12

President Napolitano was reelected to an historic second term with a huge majority, winning nearly three-quarters of the vote from the electoral college with his nearest rival, Rodotà, taking only 217 votes (probably almost all from M5S).

Napolitano’s reelection, out of the blue, was a sign that some things can still get accomplished in Italian politics. But above all it means that Italy is as dysfunctional as ever.

Napolitano’s reelection is for a seven year term, but few think he will serve until 2020. Instead, he is widely viewed as a temporary solution to the crisis – a patch, if you will. Napolitano’s conditions seem to have been an interim caretaker government (a grand coalition between the left and right) and delaying snap elections which should have been held in the summer (June or July) until the fall or even the spring of 2014. In the meantime, a new cabinet – political rather than technocrat this time (it seems) – would be charged with managing Italy’s catastrophic economy, a new electoral law and perhaps even constitutional reform. The PD will also need to hold primaries, probably in the fall, to choose a new leader after Bersani’s resignation. Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence and Bersani’s rival since Renzi lost the 2012 PD primaries to Bersani, is likely the favourite and the best thing the Italian left has for the moment. But Renzi’s centrist/liberal reformist image might not play well to some members of the PD’s left or the SEL.

On April 24, Napolitano nominated Enrico Letta, a 46-year old member of the PD, to be Prime Minister and form a coalition with the centre-left and centre-right. Napolitano said that he had picked Letta because of his youth, in contrast to the other potential nominee, Massimo D’Alema, who is an old-timer. Letta is a centrist within the PD, who comes from the PD’s Christian democratic tradition (former members of the Margherita party), but Letta had backed Bersani (who comes from the PD’s left-wing and post-communist tradition) won the PD’s leadership in 2009. His centrist standing within the party likely makes him palatable to most factions of the PD, although Renzi has expressed his displeasure at the idea of a grand coalition with Berlusconi’s right. Berlusconi apparently vetoed the idea of Renzi as Prime Minister, because he fears Renzi as his most serious rival in the future.

How will voters react to their politicians’ latest shenanigans? The Grillists will be displeased. Grillo denounced Napolitano’s reelection as a coup d’état and organized a protest in Rome. Furthermore, a grand coalition is perfect for Grillo: he has even more proof that all the traditional parties are the same and can be lumped together, while both the left and right work to discredit themselves while in government.

As of now, Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition has opened up a small lead over the left and M5S in polls, up to five points ahead now. He certainly benefited from the utter trainwreck and incompetent kerfuffle which the PD and Bersani have been since the elections. Once he reenters government, can Berlusconi continue to benefit from the political mess? That might prove tougher.

There was a regional election in Friuli-Venezia Giulia on April 21 and 22. One might have expected the left to do poorly because of the past few weeks, but they did pretty well all things considered. Indeed, the left’s presidential candidate Debora Serracchiani (a young MEP, close to Renzi) defeated right-wing incumbent Renzo Tondo (who had defeated a left-wing incumbent in 2008) with 39.39% against 39% for Tondo and 19.2% for the M5S candidate. The right did win the regional council list vote with 45.2% against 39% for the left and 13.8% for the M5S. Turnout, however, collapsed from 72% in 2008 to only 50.5% this year.

Napolitano’s reelection and Letta’s nomination is only a patch which only temporarily resolves Italy’s lingering political (and economic) crisis. Italian politics remain deadlocked and dysfunctional, and the whole thing will certainly blow up again whenever a new election is held.

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Posted on April 24, 2013, in Italy. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Phew, this is pretty crazy. Italian politics used to be a somewhat stable affair between left and right, even better than the French in some respects! Now its dysfunction all around, and the main cause of this dysfunction can at best only find “temporary” measures as you’ve noted. I wonder how long Letta’s gov’t and any grand bargain will truly last? If Renzi wins the primary, I suspect it wouldn’t go on for too much longer… should be interesting to watch in the upcoming months. Glad we don’t have anything so unstable here, at least not yet…

    Speaking of Canada, I’m surprised you didn’t cover the LPC leadership race! Obviously the conclusion was kind of forgone but your coverage of the French primaries was pretty in-depth, I was hoping you could’ve brought new insights to Trudeau’s win.

  2. FriuliVeneziaGiulia was already a big surprise for me at the general election: narrow leads for the Left in both houses, although 2006 Berlusconi had won 54,5%. A result of Friulian regionalism (as in Trentino-AltoAdige)? Or did the Right only loose because of Grillo and Tondo?

  3. Canada: I too expected an article about the Lib.-leadership (knowing Your special interest in inner-party-conflicts). I assume, that Trudeau´s victory was too broad for showing the different camps and ideologies of the LPC.

  4. @Volkov: I guess I’ll put something together for the LPC as I originally planned, but I’ll finish a post on Paraguay (very interesting) before that.

  5. Interesting as always, and if anything this write-up understates the sheer clusterfuckiness of it all.

    The sad thing is that Bersani hadn’t actually been doing too badly, for an old machine politician, since the general elections: he’d generally stuck by his relatively principled guns, ruled out a grand bargain with Berlusconi, and at least at moments (like with the election of the senate speaker) made some headway with Grillino MPs. But then at the last moment he sold out, and the left of his party understandably revolted and went with Grillo’s choice, who was a pretty good candidate.

    Instead, we now have more muddling on and an establishmentarian choice for a corrupted grand coalition … and presumably, an implosion of some sort or other for the center-left, whether Renzi takes over or not. (Renzi’s role this past few months has not been helpful at all either, by the way, and though people praise his youth and energy he seems particularly ill-placed to appeal to Grillo’s voters.)

    I’ve found “Italian Politics with Walston” a great resource to keep track of what’s going on, by the way, and he had an exasperated take on these prez elections: http://italpolblog.blogspot.hu/2013/04/chaos-squared.html

  1. Pingback: Italy and Italian politics in 2013 | World Elections

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