IPRESIDENTIAL TALIAN elections generally have more twists and turns and implausible turns than a Verdi opera. The latest vote, to replace President Sergio Mattarella, is due to begin on January 24. Over the coming weeks, party leaders can be expected to trade bluff and counter-bluff, divulging the names of candidates whose chances they are in fact sacrificing while keeping a secret until the last moment. the identity of the one they really prefer.
The result counts: Italian presidents have the power to dissolve parliaments and appoint prime ministers. They also perform their duties for an unusually long period of time: seven years, during which they acquire moral authority that can constrain government actions.
This time, the choice may seem obvious. Prime Minister Mario Draghi, former President of the European Central Bank, is internationally respected. He is free of party allegiance and heads a cabinet spanning the political arc from the far right to the radical left. It would seem logical that this broad coalition unites in its support.
Still, he faces an uphill struggle. Ironically, the only major party to consistently, albeit surreptitiously, support Mr. Draghi’s elevation is the only one to consistently criticize his performance. The far-right Brothers of Italy (FDI), led by Giorgia Meloni, chose not to join Mr Draghi’s coalition last year. Ms Meloni’s party is theoretically allied with the Populist Northern League, led by Matteo Salvini, and the center-right party Forza Italia, led by 85-year-old Silvio Berlusconi, who, without declaring himself really available, said he too wanted The Presidency.
Ms Meloni had no choice but to offer public support to Mr Berlusconi. But, unlike Mr. Salvini’s, his seemed distinctly lukewarm. If Mr. Draghi got the job instead, it would end his government and possibly call a snap election. This would suit the FDIleading the polls, and in particular Ms Meloni, who in her current form would become the leader of the biggest right-wing party, and the prime minister is expected to get a majority on the right as the polls currently suggest.
Enrico Letta, leader of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), currently leveling the FDI in the polls, he initially wanted Mr. Draghi to remain prime minister until the next general elections, scheduled for 2023. But Mr. Letta would no longer rule out supporting his candidacy for the presidency. The top priority for the PD is to ensure that the current coalition remains intact until the vote, in particular to prevent the League, whose leader, Mr. The radical right could be an even more formidable force if it entered the electoral campaign after a year or more of unity in opposition.
This is where Mr Berlusconi – or rather the support of his allies for him – becomes a problem. As Mr Draghi thought on December 22, it is unlikely that a coalition that had fought for the presidency could magically come together to rule the country. But a common candidate can only be accepted during talks, and Mr Letta refuses to negotiate with Mr Salvini until he excludes Mr Berlusconi. He may be Italy’s longest-serving Republican Prime Minister, but Mr Berlusconi is also a convicted tax evader and the former host of the famous “Bunga Bunga” parties. Opposition to him is even stronger in the Five Star Anti-Transplant Movement than in the PD. On January 3, Movement senators voted to try to square the circle by imploring Mr. Mattarella to stay until the next election. It is a solution that the president has repeatedly rejected. But it would offer a broadly acceptable way out of a dangerous impasse. ■
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “Decision Time for Draghi”