Silvio Berlusconi and the mystery of Italy’s presidential election

The news that Italy is about to appoint a new president later this month may not stir hearts.

But, go a little deeper, and it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds at first.

How do the presidential elections work in Italy?

First, it is one of the most private and mysterious presidential elections in Europe.

While in countries like France, people elect a new president at the ballot box, in Italy this is done by 630 deputies, 321 senators and 58 regional representatives.

Even stranger, Italy allows anyone over 50 with “full civil rights” to be eligible for the position, rather than limiting it to a serving politician.

The somewhat ambiguous process, which takes place over the course of the rounds until the candidate obtains a majority, has drawn comparisons to the papal meeting and stands out in Europe.

This has resulted in non-political politicians such as Gianni Versace’s brother Santo, actress Sophia Loren and even the ‘Ndrangheta Mafia boss as candidates.

Speaking to euronews, Francesco Silvestri – Member of Parliament for the Five Star Movement – highlighted how some of the unlikely names have emerged.

“There are agreements and maneuvers going on that lead to 10 or 15 votes being cast for a certain person, it all happens behind the scenes,” Euronews told Euronews.

The lawyer and constitutional expert, Marco Lado, explained the reasons behind the process of ‘perceived idiosyncrasies’ i.e. why presidents are chosen secretly by legislators rather than the general public.

“There are two main reasons why everything is so private,” he said. In order to avoid conflicting with the will of the two Houses, the President [in parliament] and to ensure that he has the necessary calm and independence to fulfill his role, both of which can be bargained for through direct elections.”

Residing in the Quirinale Palace, the President of Italy – as head of state – is making sure the constitution is respected.

Unlike the Prime Minister, the President of the Republic does not have an executive function, but rather is the “point of contact” between the three branches of power.

While the role is largely ceremonial, the president can flex his muscles, such as appointing prime ministers or – as head of the Italian armed forces – during wars and other national emergencies.

Why does Italy need a new president?

Because Sergio Mattarella, after the expiration of his seven-year term, will step down.

He has overseen several crises – such as the COVID-19 pandemic – and is widely seen as a beacon of stability during a particularly difficult period.

Mattarella has wide popular support, which means finding a replacement has been a challenge.

The list of proposed candidates includes fresh and not very recent faces, including controversial former prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi.

He helped turn this election into one of the hottest in the country.

Who are the alternatives to Berlusconi?

With Italy approaching the first round on January 24, a variety of names have been promoted as potential candidates – although as a result of the process’s secrecy, making reliable predictions is a tricky business.

Italy’s current prime minister, Mario Draghi, is widely seen as a popular pick for the role, although some commentators and investors fear his early departure from government could leave the country in a precarious position.

There have even been suggestions, especially popular within the Five Star movement, that Mattarella might once again be chosen to run.

However, of all the current proposals, none is as popular – and deeply polarizing – as Berlusconi.

The 85-year-old ruled Italy three times between 1994 and 2011, as head of the country’s center-right coalition, which united moderate Christian Democrats, hard-line post-fascists, northern separatists and even a handful of Social Democrats.

Throughout this period, Berlusconi has been caught up in a variety of scandals that have intertwined his private and public life – from reports of “Bunga Bunga” orgy and allegations of seducing a child for sexual favors to accusations of corruption and links with organized crime.

While his alleged business acumen and charisma have been praised by his supporters, he has been condemned by critics for promoting a culture of nepotism similar to Burgea and for using his popular TV channels as a vehicle for election propaganda.

His crimes in the court of public opinion may have been many and varied, but in the eyes of the law, it was tax evasion that sealed the deal. In 2013, he was found guilty by the Italian Supreme Court of evading nearly €7 million in taxes through his company, Fininvest, which resulted in him being sentenced to four years in prison (reduced to one year of community service) and his dismissal from public office for six years. . .

This background might make him an unlikely candidate for the ceremonial appeal expected of a president, however, as he is now the centre-right candidate: the hard-right populist Northern League (Lega Nord), headed by former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini. And the conservative Italian Brotherhood Party (Fratelli d’Italia), whose leader – Giorgia Meloni – is the new star of the Italian national team in opinion polls, has formally teamed up with their coalition ally to support his candidacy for the presidency. This is despite opposition within the bloc – the leader of the League’s lower house group, Riccardo Molinari, called it “divisive” – ​​and Salvini’s fraught relationship with Berlusconi, having previously criticized him.

Serious consequences

euronews spoke to Alex Bazzaro, a Northern League MP since 2018 and former director of social media at Salvini, to assess his thoughts on the upcoming presidential election.

At only 34, Bazzaro is one of the younger members of the Chamber of Deputies and was ten days shy of his seventh birthday when Berlusconi won his first general election in 1994. Now, Bazarro will enthusiastically support Berlusconi’s presidency.

“It’s the first time that the center-right has been [coalition] She poses her presidential candidate, and that’s a good thing.” “The general will is there for him to be the country’s leader.”

When asked whether Berlusconi’s scandals and controversies might prove unpopular with League voters – who are largely drawn to the party’s unshakable mantra of law and order – Bázarro reiterated his ideas that his voters “would appreciate that the center-right was put forward and united behind its candidate.” “.

Bazzaro responded to Molinari’s accusations that Berlusconi’s presidency could be divisive: “If it is divisive, it is only for the left.”

Indeed, a possible Berlusconi election has left many on the other side of the political spectrum, and even former League allies in the government coalition – the Five Star Movement – deeply concerned.

Silvestri, who was a voter for the first time in the presidential election, is particularly aghast at the proposal.

“If Berlusconi becomes president, it will be a very bad thing for us,” he admitted to Euronews. “As a movement, we are born against everything he stands for, especially given his many trials and allegations about his connections to the mafia.

It will have terrible repercussions not only on Italy’s image but on its international credibility and thus on the economy

“After all that the country has been through, Italy simply cannot afford a Berlusconi presidency.”

Pollsters currently expect a Draghi presidency as likely, but they do not rule out Berlusconi’s chances. A recent poll indicated that he is the second preferred choice of Italians for this role, showing his continued – albeit deeply divisive – appeal to the public.

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