Italy’s new president

The new Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, has made only one announcement in 10 years and his barber and the doorman at his flat have proved to be the best informed people about him

Sergio_mattarella
Sergio Mattarella, Italy's new president
Timwork
Tim Hedges
On 2 February 2015 08:42

It is the occasion for the voting in of a new President of the Italian Republic, the ageing Giorgio Napolitano having hung up his sash after less than two years of a second term he had neither sought nor wanted.

The last Presidential election, which is held by an electoral college of around 1,000 parliamentarians and representatives, could only be described as a fiasco. No one could agree on a name, and Romano Prodi, former Prime Minister and ex-head of the European Commission, who had been told he was a shoo-in, was humiliated.

They had to beg Napolitano to come back.

This time it seemed to have been organised by professionals. It was more like one of those indoor cycle races where they start unfeasibly slowly and at a certain moment rush for a sprint finish.

In the hustings before the voting started a large number of names were bandied about -- Italy has ten living former Prime Ministers, and many other worthies -- and there was much talk of the pact between Renzi and Berlusconi.

Then suddenly Renzi tipped over the chess board, announcing that the Democratic Party’s choice would be Sergio Mattarella. This is a name which is known to be unwelcome to Berlusconi, since Mattarella resigned from the government in 1990 over the law which permitted the creation of Berlusconi’s media empire.

For the first three rounds of voting nothing really happened at all. Renzi’s Democratic Party and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia did not vote. Beppe Grillo put forward someone called Ferdinando Imposimato and I could not find a single Italian who had even heard of him.

Then suddenly on the fourth ballot we had a President. At this stage the bar is lowered to a bare majority and Renzi’s Democratic Party, Angelino Alfano’s New Centre Right and Pier Ferdinando Casini’s Centrists all voted solidly for Mattarella, who came in with 665 votes out of 1,009. Silvio’s Forza Italia did not vote.

So what can we expect from the new President?

Mattarella is 73, a Sicilian and a devout catholic. His father was several times a minister in the post-war Christian Democrat administrations and his brother, Piersanti Mattarella was President of the Region of Sicily. Sergio was an academic, teaching parliamentary law at the University of Palermo.

When Piersanti was assassinated by the Sicilian mafia in 1980 Sergio decided to enter politics. He held various ministerial positions, always in centre-left administrations. In 2011 he was appointed to be a judge in the Constitutional Court.

Two things are generally known about Sergio Mattarella. The first is that he is an intensely private and quiet man. He is thought to have made only one announcement in the last ten years, and the media can only find one interview he has given.

If anything he has got quieter since his wife died in 2012. The people who have given most information about him are his barber and the doorman at his block of flats.

The second thing people know about him is that he drafted and lent his name to the Mattarellum electoral law which was used from 1993 until 2005. It was replaced by an appalling mish-mash of a system known as the Porcellum, or pigsty. Mattarello means rolling pin in Italian and his name has been at the front of some gentle humour.

People will find that Sergio Mattarella is a kind, serious man who will be concerned about the welfare of ordinary Italians. He is an expert on constitutional law and a skilled mediator.

Whereas his predecessor Giorgio Napolitano disposed of an elected Prime Minister and appointed three others, Mattarella’s time in office looks as if it will be calmer, with a popular young Prime Minister.

Matteo Renzi has come out of this well. Avoiding a repetition of the previous disaster, he announced his candidate, told everyone that nothing would happen on the first three votes, then held it all together to get his man through comfortably.

Importantly, he has avoided looking as if he is in Berlusconi’s pocket, although that gentleman presumably still needs to be paid off for not fielding a candidate.

A President needs a strong Prime Minister, and a Prime Minister needs a quiet, judicious President. Italy now looks as if it has been blessed with both.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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