A New President for Italy

André Forissier, Translated by Nadia Ait Mhamed
18 Février 2015

On 14 January 2015, Giorgio Napolitano, the former president of the Italian Republic, resigned from his position after more than nine years at the head of the Peninsula. The election of his successor began last Tuesday 29 January.

Crédit André Forissier
Crédit André Forissier
Gathered in the Roman Montecitorio Palace, 630 deputies, 315 senators, 6 senators for life as well as 58 regional delegates are now electing the 11th successor to Enrico de Nicola, the first President of the Italian Republic. Bargaining and whispers are now taking place in the Transatlantico, the large room preceding the Chamber of Deputies, in order to elect the new Head of State.

What are the results of Napolitano’s presidency?

Giorgio Napolitano waited until the end of the Italian presidency from the Council of the European Union, on 31 December 2014, to resign and vacate the Quirinal Palace, which is built on the highest of Rome’s seven ancient hills. The venerable 89-year-old man served his country until the end. During the last few years, he put the interests of the nation ahead of his own personal interests. Although he agreed to serve a second term out of good faith after seeing the extent and seriousness of Italy’s economic crisis in 2013, he eventually waited until Italy accomplished its goals in relation to Europebefore leaving the  country’s highest political position. As soon as he was re-elected, he promised not to linger till the end of his seven-year term and to stay in place until the country recovered. And he kept his promise.
During the last nine years in the Quirinal Palace, Giorgio Napolitano has, according to many experts, strengthened the Head of State’s influence. Although the Italian President’s political powers are more limited than those of his French counterpart, reducing him to a mere honorary role would be simplistic.

On the evening of 2nd June 1946, when the Italians decided to abolish the monarchy because of its ambiguous role with fascists, the fathers of the Constitution wrote a document preventing the seizure of power by a single man. Traumatized by Mussolini’s autocracy, they limited the  abilities of Parliament and the president. The Senate and the Chamber of Deputies have the same prerogatives. Thus, Italy is a country with an equal bicameral system and has, on paper, an almost perfect democratic system.
The Quirinal’s former tenant has strengthened his position’s moral and effective authority. He is the one that drove Silvio Berlusconi to leave his position as the President of the Council in 2011, when Italy was on the verge of collapse. He is also the one that appointed the technocrat Mario Monti to replace the Cavaliere in the Chigi Palace, the Prime Minister’s residence. The latter has even criticized Napolitano’s  excessive “interference” in government matters, in a country where the President of the Council is the one leading its policy.

That's why the ambitious  successor of Matteo Renzi, Mario Monti and Enrico Letta hopes for the election of a “friend,” and  someone who will not overshadow him, in order to rule the country the way he wants. However, this will not be an easy task. The Democratic Party (PD), who has the majority, owns 415 seats and thus as many voters. Still, it is not sufficient. At least 673 votes  would be required to ensure winning  the first three rounds of  voting, and 505 for the fourth round. Alliances will be necessary. And if some free  agents decide not to follow their party’s instructions, as in 2013, the voting may well turn  dramatic and it may be impossible  to designate a president for Italy.

Certain names are often  brought up to designate Giorgio Napolitano’s potential successor. Rumors speak of Walter Veltroni’s accession to the Quirinal, the former mayor of  Rome from 2001 to 2008. In the end,  he would only be  continuing down a logical path. After having served for seven years on Capitol Hill, the former Chief Magistrate of Rome would purportedly settle on the Italian capital’s other hill of power. Others are betting on the election of Romano Prodi, a former president of the European Commission. The two of them have the advantage of being PD chiefs. However, surprises cannot be ruled out. The popular saying  that “whoever enters the Conclave a Pope comes out a Cardinal” has often been applied to this  election.

A symbol of the Italian gerontocracy

Elected in 2006, Giorgio Napolitano has experienced all the Italian political events since the end of WWII. He thus joined the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in 1945. From there, he got to know the secrets of power and started climbing, slowly but surely, the ladder of the country’s political system. He was elected as Deputy in 1953. In 1956, he joined the Central Committee of the PCI. In 1989, he became a member of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Three years later, he was elected President of the Chamber of Deputies, a position he left in 1994. Meanwhile, in 1991, following the turning point adopted by the PCI in Bologna, he joined the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) and abandoned the struggle of the proletariat’s ideals to move towards social democracy. Finally,  in 2005,  he became Senator for life. 

The former president is the very symbol of the  endemic striking Italy. The political class isn’t  experiencing turnover of new members, and its average age is very high. During sixty-two years, Giorgio Napolitano has held the highest offices at the head of the Peninsula. When he resigned, he was the world’s thirdoldest Head of State still in office. And his case is not a phenomenon unto itself; the list is long. Thus, when the “hunchback dwarf” Giulio Andreotti died in May 2013 at the age of 94, he was sitting as a Senator for life at the Madama Palace. The latter had entered the government in 1954 and since then he had been continuously exerting an influence upon the  the nation. When Giancarlo Gentilini, the former Mayor of Treviso, was defeated in the 2013 municipal elections, he was already 83.

The famous Italian journalist Giampaolo Visetti has especially underlined the problem in Ex Italia il paese che non sa più chi è (ExItaly, the country that no longer knows who it is). Few young people get involved in politics and the percentage of mayors and members of Parliament that are less than 40 in Italy is one of the lowest in Europe.  Institutions even seem to keep new generations away from politics. For example, it is necessary to be at least 25 to elect a Senator. And to become one, it is even necessary to be in  one's 40's. To be elected President, a person must be at least 50.
Italy  thus seems not yet ready for the renewal of its political class.