For Sergio Mattarella, staying within the confines of his role also meant not turning his much-anticipated final televised end-of-year speech into something that would look too much like a statement or declaration of his intentions.
The President of the Republic had much to say to his fellow citizens, but regarding himself, he had no other announcement to make other than to confirm that “in a few days, as the Constitution sets out, my role as President will come to an end.” In a month or so, he will return to the Senate as a senator-for-life. Perhaps too little thought has been given to the weight that Mattarella will continue to have from that position, and the role that he will be able to play in Parliament, especially in a pared-down Senate, likely devoid of prominent figures.
However, those who support a second Mattarella term have not yet given up hope. They tried to read a willingness to rethink his plans between the lines of the president’s lack of mention of the next institutional step that will lead to the choice of his successor — something that Saragat also did, for example, on December 31, 1970. Not because there are any doubts about Mattarella’s intentions, who made clear in this last speech that the duty of a head of state is to avoid distorting the role — as would happen if the reappointment of the incumbent president became the de facto rule — but because the circumstances might change the picture.
That is, if the political forces prove incapable of reaching the (more or less broad) agreement that is in any case indispensable for choosing the new president, Mattarella might have to reconsider his decision in the face of a shared appeal by all parties — something that is not there at the moment, and has never happened before. The supporters of a second term claim the president should also reconsider if, because of the new peak of the pandemic, the electors having the right to vote to elect the new president won’t reach the quorum required, which the Constitution sets out as a proportion of the total eligible voters, not those present at the vote.
In such a case, a second term would be the only alternative to an (even more exceptional) extension of the presidential term. It must be said, however, that procedural remedies are not lacking for the possible effect of Omicron on the electors of the new head of state, if one is willing to use them: from a postponement of the vote to the approval of remote voting for parliamentarians in quarantine (which is sooner or later inevitable).
But on a closer look, the outgoing head of state did have something to say about the next steps, which might be complicated (on Tuesday, a letter from President of the Chamber Fico will announce the day of the first convocation of the electors). Otherwise, why would he have included in his speech the obvious statement that the President of the Republic exercises his role “fully until the last day of his term”? This passage is important, because one of the scenarios being considered in the case of the election of Mario Draghi to the presidency is that the new head of state, after the customary immediate resignation of his predecessor, would have to manage the process of selecting the new Prime Minister, and thus choose his own successor. Instead, Mattarella made it clear that until February 3, he will be the one to manage any government crisis.
But will it be Draghi in the end? The end-of-year speech did not yield any answer to the most pressing of political questions. However, it confirmed once more how much Mattarella cares about “governability,” which for him means “avoiding dangerous leaps in the dark.” An objective that he considers to have been achieved (after all, he has kept the legislature going through three governments, and its term is not yet over) thanks to loyal collaboration with the other institutions. Should his words perhaps be understood as a call to the Prime Minister to avoid any “leaps in the dark” himself?
Certainly, even if Draghi is the new president, there is no legitimate scenario where the institution of the president will take the reins (even partially), because every new president has as his second duty “safeguarding the role, powers and prerogatives of the institution that he received from his predecessor and must pass on intact to his successor.” And the first duty is to “divest himself of any affiliation and take charge exclusively of the general interest.” In other words, the next President of the Republic must resemble the old one. The search continues.