The Italian Presidential Election: And The Winner Is … Wait, What?

Just when Sergio Mattarella was out (he was packed!), they pulled him back in.

matttarella plenary
"Friends, this has been real but there must be someone else you can find." © European Union 2015 - European Parliament. (Creative Commons license)

As much of the world now knows, my neighbor Signor Bruno and I have made the selfless and extraordinary decision to devote minutes of our days to tracking the election procedure for the next President of the Italian Republic. We have read upwards of 3 articles (or maybe more!) to educate ourselves on this incredibly complex topic, and we have set aside other pursuits such as Signor Bruno’s odd fascination with Big Brother (more on that later) or my own, somewhat well-documented forays into astrological readings. It has all culminated in the most historic vote since Nasty Nick and the re-election of Sergio Mattarella as the President of the Republic for a second term. 

Now wait a minute, you’re thinking to yourself, didn’t Signor Bruno say that a second Mattarella term would be a good outcome? He did! And he is! But, in politics as in reality television, perception is everything. Mattarella won his mandate by a landslide, with 759 votes out of a total of 983 voters, which is the second-highest total for an Italian president since Sandro Pertini in 1978. However, it was only after seven rounds of voting that the incumbent was convinced to set aside his intention to retire, for the ‘stability’ of the nation. And while his re-election was greeted with congratulations (and relief) by political leaders both within Italy and around the world, the very clear schisms that made it necessary have become too sharp to ignore. Instead, what would have been a fine sendoff for a man with a distinguished and indeed unblemished service record has now become a presidency under duress. And Signor Bruno is not buying it! He has thoughts! 

“You see, this is what happens when all this money is in play. They didn’t want Draghi [to become president] because everyone knows if that happens, the money isn’t coming. But now, who can really look at any politician and have confidence in them? They couldn’t even do their fighting in private before all the voting happened. Instead, they have it out in public for all of us to see, and we’re all embarrassed by it. And then, no one wins. Especially this poor man who wanted to move to his apartment and probably take a holiday.” 

Signor Bruno is, once again, the voice of reason for our troubled times and it remains unclear what, if any, actual stability Mattarella’s re-election will provide. Had it been even a week earlier, one imagines that a fair bit of egg would have avoided finding its way to a good many faces. Now, we are faced with a failing report card that shows a profound lack of cohesion and cooperation on both the left and right sides of the aisle. Indeed, it may well be a decisive blow to party leaders who may have thought themselves untouchable: with Giuseppe Conte, Matteo Salvini, and Enrico Letta all agreeing on the candidature of diplomat Elisabetta Belloni only to be undercut by their own parties (and this after five previous votes), the body politic might need some pretty serious reconstructive surgery. 

mattarella young
The last time Sergio Mattarella was able to freely move from job to job. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Carlo Riccardi

So, what now? 

Remember how Signor Bruno was talking about all that money? Well, he wasn’t trying out for the role of Lester Fremon on the central Italian adaptation of The Wire, he was talking about the EU Recovery Fund, or as it’s known here, the PNRR (Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza). This is the roughly 250€ billion that Italy will have at its disposal in the coming years for large scale reforms to infrastructure, economic development, and digitization, among a host of other programs. Since his appointment to Prime Minister, Mario “whatever it takes” Draghi has ruled his coalition based on the open secret that he was the only person to whom the European Central Bank would willingly hand over such a massive sum. Until the elections, he seemed to be on the fast track to doing just that, and everyone seemed almost convinced that Draghi had managed to corral parties across the spectrum into a tacit agreement. Spectacular amounts of money tend to do that. But alas! As Signor Bruno notes, “now we all know that this government is like paper standing on mud.” That sounds treacherous! 

But the real question is, can we get back on track? Signor Bruno has doubts, and mostly because he has been watching Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother (see, I told you we’d come back to it). As he notes, “I watch this show and think, everything is theater. They fight with each other because the viewers like that, just like politicians fight with each other because it entertains them. And no one knows what’s real or not anymore. Like now, with this Recovery Fund. Why are we celebrating a debt? It’s not the lottery, it’s a loan. We’re spending money we don’t have and arguing about governments we don’t choose as if somehow it will make our lives easier. I don’t think anything works that way. I think it’s more complicated than that.” 

However lest we leave you on a bitter note, rest assured that Signor Bruno feels confident that Sergio Mattarella will help the country as ever. He would have preferred a female president but he is glad that it wasn’t notable cruise ship crooner Silvio Berlusconi. Ultimately, he says, Italy will go on as it always has because people have learned to live with a certain amount of disappointment in their political system. It’s not that bad, he says. “If we had too much hope we would be America and look at how that’s going.” Game, set, match, Signor Bruno. 

Join us next week as we return to the Tiny News Roundup on Patreon, where you’re always welcome and Big Brother is probably not watching!