It was almost an aside in the president’s speech, as if it were the most obvious thing: “A few weeks until the end of my role, of my office as President of the Republic, I am pleased to return to La Sapienza University,” said President Mattarella. But it wasn’t just a passing remark.
Many days have gone by since November 11, when the head of state had clearly communicated the same message—that his time as president was coming to an end—but then had to read further speculation about a possible second term. So, he has returned to the subject, and he gave not only constitutional reasons—quoting Leone, who “put forward once again the proposal to introduce a one-term limit for the president of the Republic,” and Segni, who said at the beginning of the year that “seven years are sufficient to ensure continuity in the activity of the state”—but also more personal reasons for not wanting a second term.
“Some time ago, a student asked me how it was possible for those who exercise power not to be affected by it,” Mattarella recalled on Monday in his speech inaugurating the academic year. And he spoke of the answer he would give him now: “Fortunately, in the institutions, for those who hold the primary institutional roles, there are various instruments: the division of functions among different bodies, the temporary nature of offices.”
The stress was on that temporary nature: seven years for the president are more than enough. In Mattarella’s way of thinking, the precedent of the re-election of Giorgio Napolitano for a second term (which then ended prematurely due to his resignation) is not at all an argument against one term only as a good practice. Quite the opposite, in fact, because two exceptions one after the other would be too much like creating a new rule.
All the more so since the president has become convinced—on the basis of the arguments of the aforementioned Segni and Leone—that it would be useful to introduce an explicit one-term limit for the presidency into the Constitution. This would make it possible to eliminate the “white semester” (the last six months of the president’s term, during which they cannot formally dissolve Parliament and call for new elections) which can prove to be an obstacle in the exercise of a president’s mandate, because it deprives him of an instrument that is sometimes indispensable for restarting the engine of the Republic.
Sergio Mattarella has not always been of this opinion. He was not in August 1998, when, as leader of the Popular Party’s group in the Chamber of Deputies, he proposed the re-election of Oscar Luigi Scalfaro to the presidency for a second term. But now, Mattarella is so intent on pouring cold water on the prospect of another term that he has already made it known that he has found a home in Rome for when he leaves the Quirinale Palace. That was only the latest clear signal, after mentioning his need to “rest,” to take some time off at the Vatican, or the transfer of his adviser for legal affairs.
The reason why all this was not enough, and the president was forced again on Monday to return to the topic and the “few weeks” remaining from his term, is that the prospect of a second term is something still in the president’s thoughts. It appears difficult to find a solution for who will replace him. And the mere possibility that in the end, somehow, a way could be found to convince Mattarella to change his mind would have the effect of “relaxing” the parliamentarians who need to vote, and would paradoxically make the solution even more difficult to find.
In other words, the incumbent president does not want to run the risk that Parliament might default to call on him again after a series of half-hearted votes. He clearly thinks that the parties should no longer avoid the process of looking for agreement: “This is the time for responsibility,” he said on Monday, speaking about the pandemic, but emphasizing the necessary “responsibility of the institutions.” This is why he is stressing once again that it’s game over for his time in office.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.