Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella’s re-election has elicited a general sigh of relief on the part of those who trembled at the thought of a mediocre spectacle of ungovernability. Let us, however, analyse some significant open questions on Italy’s institutional and social structures.
Starting, above all, with Article 85 of the Constitution: ‘The President of the Republic is elected for six years.’ The Constitution thus does not provide for a second term, even if it does not exclude it. As a constitutionalist, Mattarella has always held this view. In fact, in the beginning he repeatedly rejected the idea of re-election, but then accepted it for a paramount ‘raison d’état’. Constitutionalists are divided over the constitutional admissibility of a second term. The President of the Committee for the Defence of the Constitution wrote:
The Constitution does not impose a prohibition and it would be mistaken to think that the lack of a provision signifies carelessness on the part of the framers. It was a conscious choice. This is demonstrated by the inclusion in the original text of Article 88 on the ‘white semester’ [referring to the last six months of the President’s term], which only makes sense assuming that re-election is possible. There is no ‘spirit’ of the framers that would indicate the opposite.
However, I do believe that in Italy’s constitutional system fourteen years of office are excessive; this is an institutional first. We therefore ought to view Mattarella’s re-election as an exception. Is there a danger that after the Presidency of Napolitano the exception becomes the fatal rule? I think that democratic vigilance is called for to prevent this. Mattarella himself had spoken of a further seven years as a ‘constitutional grammatical error’ – the president of the republic is not supposed to become a democratic oligarch.
Let us remember that there were two self-nominations that blocked the Parliament for days: Berlusconi’s grotesque and improbable candidacy, and Prime Minister Draghi’s, which I have always opposed for political but also for deeply constitutional reasons. Draghi’s election would have caused us to slide in a confused and surreptitious way towards a form of Gaullist fifth republic. Draghi claimed, in my view, that the constitutional rules were in conformity with his presidential ambitions. If he were elected President of the Republic he would have demanded that another ‘technical’ office holder (one, in fact, named by himself) become President of the Council. A technocratic/oligarchic government that would have destroyed the political dialectic and made politics the handmaiden of the economic and financial powers. Draghi would in fact have established a hyper-presidentialism without rules, without controls, without counterbalances.
And then there is a fundamental issue. Article 87 of the Constitution reads: ‘The President of the Republic is the head of state and represents national unity.’ Instead, Draghi would have been the head of a coalition, that is, of a majority, a partisan president.
I would add an observation that may seem a side issue but is really central in a technological and media society in which the speed of information becomes a shaping of the common sense and collective imaginary. I have seen at play a perfidious media campaign – of a technocratic/liberalist cast – aimed, with affected contempt, at discrediting the very institution of parliamentary democracy. Making use of the political system’s real weakness (which has been present for at least thirty years, a problem often triggered by the majoritarian electoral system) and the deep crisis of political representation, the press and mass media, almost unanimously, have presented the parliamentary search for a new President of the Republic as a despicable market. The liberalist mass media pretended to not understand that democracy also means slowness, that it is enriched by confrontations, clashes, and mediations. This is Italian constitutional legality. This media campaign, in my view, essentially tends to convince public opinion, and the deep state of mind of the nation, that a radical change of the Constitution is needed, starting with establishing a direct popular election of the President of the Republic. This would also be a distortion of the whole first part of the Constitution, that is, the articles that establish the foundations of our social formation based on values originating in the Resistance. In fact, the magnitude of the powers, including executive powers, of a president elected by the people is obvious to everyone. I am not speaking of a vacuous or only potential threat. The right unanimously – but also sectors of the centre-left and, above all, the employers association – have been preparing and presenting draft constitutional laws. Meloni and the right based their own electoral campaign on this project. It does not seem to me that there are adequate antidotes to this or strong enough convictions within the centre-left to be able to resist the right.
The week of presidential elections has demonstrated the deep crisis of the political system. This is due, no doubt, to the hegemony exercised by the economy, by the processes of accumulation, by the formation of value chains within the tragic convulsions of liberalist globalisation, which reveal bitter conflicts around competitiveness – between companies, between macro-territories, and between states. This context has created thirty years of bipolarism and a majoritarian system that has dissolved political representation. It is no accident that coalitions are now in crisis which were formed out of heterogeneous forces competing among themselves, and which were only patched together to govern or for other power motives – coalitions built only to grab votes. In the week of presidential elections the parties were taught a severe lesson. Now there needs to be a major change of direction.
I think it is essential that a proportional law be discussed in Parliament, and very soon; a law that has parliamentary representatives elected by citizens – and before the next elections, above all after the terrible linear reduction that has taken place in the number of parliamentarians. Only a proportional electoral law would in fact be the ‘mirror of the country’, as the former General Secretary of the Italian Communist Party Palmiro Togliatti called it. And without a majority bonus system, without ‘scam’ laws, without ‘useful’ and ‘throwaway’ votes. We have to return to the founding principle of ‘one person, one vote’.
Only proportional democracy will enable parties to confront the actual crisis. I will raise a question of perspective: There needs finally to be approval of the implementation law of Article 49 of the Constitution (‘all citizens have the right of free association in parties in order to participate, through democratic method, in the determining of national policy’). And it is necessary to reconsider the legislation on public financing of parties, clumsily destroyed by the reactionary populism that has exacerbated the predatory and private-enterprise aspects of the papier-mâché parties. Representative democracy can be relaunched only through a strong dialectic of direct democracy – with popular self-government and self-representation.
Ultimately, I do not think that Mattarella’s re-election will bring stability. Instead, it risks preserving the present dilemma. I believe that we will, paradoxically, experience months of great instability, decomposition, and recomposition of parties – also perhaps splits of parties. I do not dislike instability, as long as a mass movement grows in society that gives birth to a new anti-capitalist, unified, and plural left.