President Sworn in for 2nd Term

Most presidents are thrilled to be sworn in for a second term, but not Italy’s Sergio Mattarella. The 80-year-old President of Italy was determined to retire at the end of his first term. As his term came to an end, he made sure that everyone could see him searching for a new house and packing his possessions for a move out of the Quirinal Palace. Instead of a quiet retirement, Mattarella is now stuck for another term in the turbulent world of Italian politics.

“Hostage” president gets an unwanted second term

Fortunately for Mattarella, the Italian president is in practice a secondary figure to the prime minister, who holds most of the power and responsibility under the Constitution of the Italian Republic.

The president is meant to be a respected elder statesman and a stabilizing force in politics, but his actual duties are largely (though not entirely) ceremonial.

The public does not vote for the office and there is no need for an individual to declare their candidacy. An electoral college comprised of the two chambers of parliament votes to elect the president, who can theoretically be any Italian citizen over the age of fifty.

Mattarella is only the second Italian president to be reelected; this isn’t because he’s a wildly popular figure, though about three quarters of the electors rallied around him for the final vote.

To elect a president, a simple majority of the 1,009 available votes is needed. For a political scene as fragmented as Italy’s, this can be a real challenge.

The electors went through six rounds of voting with no one candidate able to approach the necessary threshold. The stalemate could have gone on for much longer if an easy compromise hadn’t been readily available.

Italian political landscape remains chaotic

Against his very clear wish to retire, electors began to vote for Mattarella to stay on for another term. It proved to be much easier for a centrist and relatively inoffensive candidate to win than a candidate any side could be really passionate about supporting or opposing.

The prime minister and other party leaders reportedly went to Mattarella to persuade him to accept another term, arguing that his presence as a compromise choice would prevent further chaos.

The Italian government is currently led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi, another compromise choice. Draghi earned the backing of a coalition of major parties to lead Italy through the pandemic.

Draghi himself has been considered for the presidency but retains his current role for now. He remains in a precarious position, despite having the backing of the largest parties.

The largest of all in the Italian Parliament is the populist Five Star Movement. Matteo Salvini’s right-wing Lega maintains a strong power base in the north.

Italy has a dizzying array of other parties, some very minor and some entirely regional. It isn’t difficult to see why Sergio Mattarella would have preferred retirement.

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