Will deputies invite the Knight?

MOSCOW, 06 Jan 2022, RUSSTRAT Institute.

At first glance at this collision, it is clear that we are facing a director’s mise-en-scène of those whose secret is known in Italy. The location of the actors on the stage, as well as the moment when they will enter the game, are unclear. By the way, as well as the moment when they suddenly leave it. But the viewer is motivated to the limit, they already seem to be rushing to the stage themselves. In general, the intrigue is off the scale: the performance will either go off with a bang, or it will end with ear-splitting booing.

However, in order for not only the enlightened Italian audience to fully enjoy the delights of the theatrical production, it is worth explaining the subtext and some details.

The Quirinal pedestal

So, the essence of the action is the election of the president of Italy. It will begin at the end of January, since Sergio Mattarella, who holds this post, decided not to stay for a second term, and his current mandate will expire in February 2022. The procedure will not be easy – the electoral college votes with a total of 1008 people, consisting mainly of deputies and senators, as well as regional deputies. It votes as many rounds as it is needed for the election to take place; moreover, in the first three rounds, victory is guaranteed by a two-thirds majority (75%). Then a simple majority is enough – 50% plus one vote (i.e. 505 votes).

The voting formula is tricky, but it is not being changed. Why? The owner of Quirinal Palace (the president) has little real power, but he plays a very important role in resolving government crises, which are the rule rather than the exception in the political life of the Italian Republic. For example, the current president, during the new crisis, nominated not a politician from an influential faction, but an economist, Mario Draghi, to the post of head of the cabinet. So they elect, in some sense, a “master of compromise”. And it can be said that in the course of such a protracted election they are testing this person. 

But that’s not all. An additional intrigue is connected with the fact that the names of applicants often become known at the last moment. Behind-the-scenes negotiations, which make it possible to understand how many votes a candidate can count on, are part of the electoral procedure. However, as a rule, these figures are already being viewed on the eve of the first votes: leaks – from the deputy and senatorial corps, as well as from directly interested persons to the press – make it clear who intends to compete for this chair.

“Seduction operation”

At the moment, two candidates are being discussed whose names have been heard on the government sidelines and in the media since the beginning of December. The candidacy of the current prime Minister, 75-year-old Mario Draghi, former chairman of the European Central Bank (for eight years at the ECB, he earned the fame of the “saviour of the euro”), and before that, the Bank of Italy, is weighty and does not cause questions. With the exception of the only, but extremely principled thing: and who, if not him, “Super Mario”, who took over the post of head of the cabinet a year ago, will save Italy in the current “pandemic stagnation”?

How to implement an economic recovery plan tied to the support of the EU, without someone who has already saved the eurozone from collapse once? Simply put, a large part of the Italian elite, and society, is tempted not to let a specialised professional go from the government at a key moment. This means that, having marked his appearance on the scene, Mario Draghi can go back to the government. As they say, he will still have time to become president of Italy.

So what is the alternative? And here it is – a fairy tale one. Silvio Berlusconi, 85 years old, four times prime minister of Italy (a record for both the number of mandates and the total term), as follows from the reports of politicians close to him, is extremely animated by the idea of being elected president of the country. Points can be added to this list of records: the first multi-billionaire at the head of the European government, the first populist to be elected two months after the creation of his party, and also the first politician to have thousands of court sessions and dozens of court cases against him.

Here, of course, is a purely Italian approach. The Knight (this nickname is firmly glued to Berlusconi for his scope in everything from politics to parties) is almost at death’s door every time when he is called to court in one of the scandalous cases where he is a defendant. But this does not prevent him from courting deputies, seeking their support when running for president.

What is characteristic: most of all he has to work with ideological heirs – populists from the Five Star Movement, who have the largest faction in parliament. This party is already collecting signatures on the street against Berlusconi’s election (allegedly they have already scored 200,000). But the Knight himself has been in politics for too long not to understand: when signatures are collected at squares, this does not mean that it is impossible to agree with those politicians who came up with collecting them.

For several weeks now, “seduction operations” have been conducted against deputies of all parties, and this is a sure sign that preparations for the vote are very active, emphasises Giovanni Orsina, a political scientist from the Luiss University of Rome, an expert on the Italian right wing party and Berlusconi personally.

Why so much bothering at the age of 85? The expert explains: “From the point of view of Silvio Berlusconi, who considers himself a politician who had the greatest influence on the development of Italy in the late 20th-early 21st century, the country did not appreciate his significance for history. Being elected President of the Republic at the end of his career means for Berlusconi recognition of both his role and his personality.”

However, he counts, of course, not only on the search for a common language with the nation. Following the results of the last elections, both parliamentary and regional, the composition of the electoral college, which will have to vote for the president of Italy, has changed. Now 45% of its members are represented by various right-wing parties, which gives them reason to count on the election of “their own one” as president. (For the first time, by the way, in 23 years – all this time the presidents were left or centre-left). And the Italian right wing does not have a brighter personality than the Knight, with all his other features.

Actually, this is what Berlusconi’s supporters are now reminding Italy, and above all, its elite. Berlusconi, explains in an interview with Corriere della Serra Antonio Tajani, coordinator of the party “Forward, Italy!”, which he once created with the former prime minister, proved that he can lead the country through any trials.

“He is a proven business leader, a man who is not afraid of any challenges and who has ruled our country the longest because the most voters voted for him,” emphasises Tajani. “Who else among Italian politicians can boast that they brought Bush and Putin at the same negotiating table and headed the European Council for the longest time?”

All of this is indeed like that: Berlusconi is really the most influential Italian politician over the past 40 years. The only problem, the same political scientist Giovanni Orsina admits, is that even if the electors agree with such an assessment and elect him to the presidency, there is a great risk that half of Italy will still take to the streets with a protest.

And it’s not just about scandals – trials during which the Knight was accused of corruption, financial scams, mafia ties, sexual scandals and molestation of minors. One of the most serious claims of voters against Silvio Berlusconi is the political system that he once created to come to power and against which he is now at war.

He built it on “political communication based on demagoguery and control of the media,” recalls Giovanni Orsina from Luiss University. And this opened the way to populism and demagoguery, in which politics is drowning today not only in Italy, but throughout Europe. Yes, parties began to be created in a couple of months, and such parties have learned to win elections, but by the next election they often disappear without trace.

Perhaps, as the discoverer and inspirer of this system, Silvio Berlusconi knows what can be used to oppose it in order to go down in the history of Italy as a politician – it is not for nothing that they say about him that he is “strongest where the impossible is required”. Well, and if the Knight will fail to get elected to the “master of compromise”, then we will obviously see new applicants. The stage is ready. The audience is in agitation. And we will find out the name of the director later…

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT

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