The second mandate of the President of the Republic
The President of the Chamber of Deputies, Roberto Fico, has convened Parliament on Monday 24 January at 3pm for the start of the sessions that will elect the new President of the Republic.
The end of the mandate of the current President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella is set for 3 February. Although in recent months Mattarella has more or less explicitly expressed his opposition to a possible re-election, this hypothesis is at the centre of the news and political discussion because it would bring together a large majority of the parties. There would therefore be no need for a long parliamentary debate followed by a large number of ballots, which is extremely likely in situations of political deadlock such as the one we are currently experiencing.
The re-election of a President of the Republic is not forbidden by the Constitution; however, Article 88 - which sanctions the major power of the first office of State, namely that of being able to dissolve Parliament and call new elections - contains a paragraph, known as the "white semester", which prevents the President of the Republic from dissolving the Chambers during the last six months of his term of office.
The President of the Republic may, after consulting their Presidents, dissolve both Houses or one of them.
He may not exercise this power during the last six months of his term of office, unless these coincide in whole or in part with the last six months of the parliamentary term.
The purpose of this rule is to prevent a president from deliberately choosing to dissolve Parliament with the intention of electing a new one closer to him, thus favouring possible re-election. Antonio Segni, the fourth President of the Republic, highlighted this subtext underlying the 'white semester', hoping that "the principle of the non-immediate re-eligibility of the President of the Republic [...] be introduced into the Constitution, the seven-year period being sufficient to guarantee continuity in the action of the State".
The hypothesis of re-election, much feared by Segni as a possible symptom of excessive personalism on the part of the first office of State, never actually arose before April 2013, with the re-election of Mattarella's predecessor: Giorgio Napolitano.
The precedent of Giorgio Napolitano
Giorgio Napolitano, who was elected President of the Republic in 2006, would describe the period between March and April 2013 as a "terrible time". Following the two years of the technical government led by Mario Monti, the election results of the 24-25 February elections had led to a political stalemate, and the coincidence of the White Semester with the serious political and economic situation in Italy made it impracticable to dissolve Parliament and call new elections. The surrender of Pier Luigi Bersani, to whom Napolitano had entrusted the task of forming a government, led the President on 30 March to appoint a commission of ten wise men with the task of identifying - on the basis of convergence between the parliamentary forces - a shared programme for a possible government of broad agreement, i.e. supported by parties that were very far apart. Following this decision, Napolitano announced his intention to resign - his mandate would have expired on 15 May - to anticipate the election of a new President of the Republic. On 18 April, a vote was held to choose a new president, which ended on 20 April with Napolitano's re-election at the sixth ballot. The re-election, strongly influenced by the urgency of forming a stable government, took place with a very large majority: 738 votes in favour out of 997 voters, 195 more than those that guaranteed him his first appointment in 2006.
Although Napolitano had repeatedly declared his unwillingness to serve another term, he accepted re-election on condition that the parties committed to reforming the electoral law. Napolitano was considered the only one capable of guaranteeing national cohesion. This was also because in the first five ballots the Democratic Party, which at the time had a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, had failed - also and above all because of its internal conflicts - to nominate a candidate that would be acceptable first to the centre-right, that appreciated Franco Marini, and then to the 5 Star Movement, namely with Romano Prodi.
Mattarella's possible second term in office
On 2 December, the Democratic Party filed a bill amending Articles 85 and 88 of the Constitution that would prohibit the re-election of the President of the Republic and abolish the white semester. Several newspapers have interpreted this move by Senators Zanda, Parrini and Bressa as an attempt to convince Mattarella to accept a second term in office: given the time it takes to approve the law, it could only enter into force after the election of the new president. The law should therefore guarantee Mattarella that his re-election does not turn the exception (which Napolitano had already reluctantly accepted) into a rule, but serves to fill the time until the end of the current legislature in 2023.
Mattarella, who for months has been making clear his opposition to a second term in office, made it known through spokesmen at the Quirinale that he accepted the text of the bill "with astonishment", as reported in Corriere della Sera by quirinalist Marzio Breda, who represents the most authoritative voice in Italy regarding relations between the President of the Republic and the media. In an interview published in La Repubblica on 4 December, Senator Zanda rejected the interpretation that the reform would be an incentive for Mattarella to accept a second term in office. However, the quirinalist for La Repubblica, Concetto Vecchio, points out that it is unusual for the press office of the Quirinale to filter the moods of a president as reserved as Mattarella and that "the fact that they have come out this time is proof of [his] discontent".
The current parliamentary forces are unable to agree on a candidate who can be elected with an absolute majority (starting from the fourth ballot): in this scenario, Mattarella's name would unblock an inevitable and pre-announced political stalemate, given that he represents a name that the majority of the parties would be ready to vote for; even the 5 Star Movement, after having called for his impeachment at the start of the legislature following his veto on Paolo Savona as economy minister, has indicated Mattarella as the best solution for the Quirinal. At the moment, the only leader to have publicly ruled out support for a possible Mattarella bis is Matteo Salvini of the Lega, who said: "If anyone on the left wants to pull President Mattarella by the jacket, they are disrespecting him above all, as he has repeatedly reiterated his unwillingness to accept a second term in office".