Italian President Sergio Mattarella re-elected, easing the crisis

Sergio Mattarella was to be sworn in on Wednesday or Thursday. (To file)

Rome:

Italy’s parties voted overwhelmingly on Saturday for incumbent President Sergio Mattarella to stay on for another term, averting the political chaos that a failure to elect his successor could have unleashed in the eurozone’s third-largest economy.

The 80-year-old’s election ended weeks of dithering over whether prized Prime Minister Mario Draghi should be elevated, with many fearing such a move would have left the government rudderless at a very sensitive time.

Mattarella had to pocket 505 votes or more. He won 759, earning him another term as president in spite of himself.

The former Constitutional Court judge had repeatedly ruled out running for a second term, but relented on Saturday after bickering Italian political parties failed to find another viable candidate.

“I had other projects, but if necessary, I am available,” he said before the vote, according to party parliamentarians.

He was to be sworn in on Wednesday or Thursday.

Constitutional expert Gaetano Azzariti told AFP Mattarella’s election would be for a full seven-year term, but he could step down sooner.

Draghi said the result was “wonderful news for the Italians”.

French President Emmanuel Macron was quick to tweet his congratulations to “dear Sergio”.

Italy’s presidency is largely ceremonial, but the head of state wields serious power during political crises, from dissolving parliament to selecting new prime ministers and denying mandates to fragile coalitions.

“Big sacrifice”

Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right Ligue party, was the first to openly propose the popular incumbent president on Saturday, after fielding a candidate who flopped on Friday.

Billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, who himself missed out on the presidency, also said his party would ask Mattarella “to make a big sacrifice”, as would the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

Only the far-right Brothers of Italy party opposed his remaining.

A dual mandate is not entirely unprecedented. In 2013, President Giorgio Napolitano was elected to stay, in an attempt to resolve the political deadlock left by an inconclusive general election. He served nearly two more years.

Mattarella has already served a tumultuous seven-year term, during which he sought to be a unifying figure through five different governments and the devastation of the coronavirus.

The Sicilian, who was a little-known Constitutional Court judge when he was elected head of state by parliament in 2015, has been liked by parties of all political persuasions.

Mattarella is expected to remain in office for at least a year, to push the country through to the 2023 general election. This will also leave Draghi free to move forward with Italy’s post-pandemic recovery.

“Ideal for financial markets”

Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank brought in to lead a government of national unity almost a year ago, has played a key role in reviving Italy’s debt-ridden economy.

Italy is banking on nearly 200 billion euros ($222 billion) in EU funds to shore up the trend, but Brussels’ money depends on a tight schedule of reforms.

International investors have been watching the election closely, fearing that the calendar will deteriorate.

Guido Cozzi, professor of macroeconomics at the University of St. Gallen, told AFP that an extension of Mattarella’s term was “ideal for the financial markets”.

Draghi also managed to keep bickering between Italian parties to a minimum.

But the Repubblica daily stressed that with the election campaign already underway, the coming year “risks being a repeat of the mess we have seen in recent days”.

It will now fall to Mattarella to keep the peace: “a more difficult task than we can imagine”.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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