Dhe announcement on Friday afternoon came as no surprise: the alliance of Italian centre-right parties unanimously supported Silvio Berlusconi’s candidacy for the post of President.
Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta based in Rome.
Berlusconi, founder and leader of the Christian-democratic party Forza Italia, had invited former interior minister Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing national Lega, and Giorgia Meloni from the post-fascist party “Brothers of Italy” to a meeting at his Villa Grande residence in south-east Rome. A joint statement by the three party leaders then said that they agreed “that Silvio Berlusconi is the right person to hold high office in this difficult situation”. Because the Italian head of state represents the country’s national unity, the official must have “authority, balance and international standing”. Berlusconi fulfills this requirement profile in an exemplary manner.
In order to secure the support of the European People’s Party (EPP), Berlusconi had previously invited Manfred Weber (CSU), the head of the EPP group in the European Parliament, to the Villa Grande. Forza Italia has always been part of the EPP family of Christian Democratic parties in Europe. As expected, Weber also expressed his support for his political ally Berlusconi. Berlusconi, who is now 85, is an experienced and strong political leader with an intimate knowledge of international affairs who, despite his strong political convictions, “should now have the chance to show that he is capable of uniting,” Weber said.
The left thinks Berlusconi is the wrong man
The parties of the Italian left see things very differently. Enrico Letta, leader of the Social Democrats, and Giuseppe Conte, head of the left-wing populist Five Star Movement, confirmed on Friday evening that they would do everything possible to prevent Berlusconi from being elected. Matteo Renzi from the small left-liberal party Italia Viva also let it be known that he thinks Berlusconi is the wrong candidate.
Since neither the right nor the left camp has enough votes to elect the new head of state on their own, both sides are looking to independent and non-attached deputies and senators in the parliamentary assembly for support. It is expected that it will take at least four ballots to determine Sergio Mattarella’s successor at the electoral convention, which begins on January 24. From the fourth ballot, an absolute majority of 505 of the 1009 votes of the electorate is sufficient, in the first three rounds a two-thirds majority is required. Since only one ballot can be held a day, the decision should not be made until January 27 at the earliest.
Preferred candidate Draghi
The current prime minister, Mario Draghi, is the preferred candidate for the presidency among parties on the left, among representatives of the political center and among those of the moderate right. Draghi is non-party and eleven years younger than Berlusconi. The former head of the ECB was only appointed Prime Minister by Mattarella in February and has since led a kind of government of national unity, which includes all the main political forces apart from Meloni’s “Italian brothers”.
A day before the meeting at Berlusconi’s, Lega leader Salvini had indicated that his party was ready to remain in the coalition, even if Draghi were to switch from the post of prime minister to that of president. Berlusconi has expressly ruled out this possibility and announced that his Forza Italia would leave the government should Draghi become president. This was seen as an open challenge from Draghi, who expressly did not rule out running for the highest state office. Berlusconi is promoting himself by arguing that he is the only candidate for the presidency who can guarantee the continued existence of the Draghi-led coalition government until the end of the legislative period in March 2023. If there were any other solution, there would be new elections this spring.
The factual duel between Berlusconi and Draghi for the presidency puts a strain on cooperation in the coalition. The fact that the parties united in Draghi’s cabinet are deeply at odds over the important personnel issue effectively means the end of political cooperation in the unitary coalition. It is uncertain whether this could remain in office as a kind of emergency government community until 2023 if a third candidate were to run for the highest state office.