Commentary. From now on, Italian presidents will lose the presumption of impartiality and of acting as a guarantor that the presidential office requires, and they will always be subject to suspicion that they are acting for their own personal interest.

The reasons were excellent, but the result was bad

As things stood, it must be acknowledged that there were very good reasons behind the re-election of Sergio Mattarella as President of the Republic. Avoiding the ascent to the presidency of candidates who would have strained the residual legitimacy of the republican institutions to the breaking point; preventing further yielding to the technocratic drift already ongoing for some time; averting the risk that panic would take over and make the situation ungovernable.

All great reasons, which nevertheless led to a very bad outcome.

Bad for the Constitution, first of all. While we can’t agree with Massimo Villone that the Constitution has been violated, we can concur with Gaetano Azzariti that it has been “put away in the drawer.”

With the re-election of the outgoing president, “the principle of the temporary nature of top political offices” was overturned: “the feature that distinguishes democracies from monarchies, democratic powers from absolute ones.” With two (consecutive) cases out of the last 13, re-election ceases to be an exception and becomes a rule. It becomes part of the list of normal things, it becomes a legitimate expectation for future presidents: thus, from now on, they will lose the presumption of impartiality and of acting as a guarantor that the presidential office requires, and they will always be subject to suspicion that they are acting for their own personal interest.

Furthermore, it was bad for politics. Certainly not because Parliament wasn’t able to quickly identify the new president: the time taken to discuss and debate on these occasions is always well spent. Provided, however, that there is real discussion and debate. Provided that ideas are put out there and, subsequently, that candidates are nominated in a way that makes sense. Instead, we have witnessed a whirlwind of names floated without any logic, as if it made no difference at all to elect a technocrat or a politician, a Catholic or a secularist, a party or civil society figure, a figure from the past or the present. At least, the right tried to elect an openly right-wing president. The left did not even try that: the goal of the secretary of the PD was—according to his own statements—to elect to the highest political office someone whose political opinions we don’t even know.

Finally, it was bad for the institutions. One cannot pretend that Mattarella didn’t take pains to exclude in every way the possibility of him running for a second term. To what extent can the current rhetoric of “sacrifice for the homeland” compensate for the campaign against Mattarella’s re-election conducted by Mattarella himself? Were the alarms he repeatedly sounded in the past weeks well-founded or groundless? Either they were well-founded, and then Parliament should explain why it did not take them into consideration, or they were groundless, and then the President should explain why he raised them in the first place. But it is clear from the arguments we’ve examined above that they were well-founded indeed.

Two risks are now coming up, with the highest priority.

The first concerns the revival of the never-quenched presidentialist impulses that continue to stir the political debate. We have reached this point also because for too long we have been under the illusion that we can provide legal (formal) solutions to the political (substantial) problems that are afflicting us. Unfortunately, these are impulses that cut across the political spectrum, bringing together Giorgia Meloni, Matteo Renzi and the newly elected President of the Constitutional Court (who, not coincidentally, was prompt to say that the direct election of the Head of State would require a revision of Italy’s form of government in a semi-presidentialist direction).

The second is that a discussion will begin regarding the duration of Mattarella’s new mandate. The mere fact that this is being discussed weakens the third-party status of the Head of State, because the moment of an early resignation would have a decisive influence on the choice of his successor. It is, above all, in the President’s interest to remove this suspicion from himself. He can do so immediately, by formally declaring, in his reinvestment speech before the assembled Chambers, that he will remain in office until the expiry of the seven years provided for by the Constitution.

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