sábado, 10 de dezembro de 2016
Italy’s ‘iron’ president takes charge
Italy’s ‘iron’ president takes charge
Italy’s future is in the hands of a former minister and constitutional expert from Sicily, whose life has been marked by Cosa Nostra.
By JACOPO BARIGAZZI 12/9/16, 6:10 PM CET
Italian President Sergio Mattarella, whose personal life and political career have been marked by the bloody struggle against the Sicilian Mafia, is unlikely to be daunted by his role in resolving the crisis sparked by Matteo Renzi’s resignation as prime minister.
As a former Constitutional Court judge and cabinet minister, he has the hands-on experience and legal expertise to navigate an undeniably complex situation: a prime minister with a clear majority undermined by his own referendum; a country that rejected Renzi’s bid to streamline lawmaking in last Sunday’s vote; and competing electoral rules governing the two chambers of parliament that make it almost impossible to hold fresh elections.
A patrician figure sometimes described as cold and reserved, 75-year-old Mattarella is the first president in the history of the republic to hail from Sicily. Elected in early 2015, he is so far untested by the kind of challenge that earned his predecessor Giorgio Napolitano the nickname “King George.” Until now, Mattarella has been seen as a man promoted to the job on Renzi’s wishes in the hope that he would stick to the ceremonial aspects of the role.
Since Renzi formally resigned on Wednesday, however, the president’s Quirinale palace atop a hill in Rome has been the center of political activity once more, reliving its former glory as the home of kings and popes.
A former cabinet colleague from one of Mattarella’s stints as a minister in the late 1990s, the MEP Patrizia Toia, said that beneath his patrician looks, the silver-haired president is “made of iron.”
“He is a man who has always inspired deep respect,” said Toia.
In Italy’s stormy politics, where prime ministers last an average of just one year in office, presidents often have to steer the ship through choppy waters. This weekend, following consultations with party leaders, Mattarella will have to decide whether to appoint a temporary replacement for Renzi, or give the 41-year-old incumbent a new mandate until fresh elections can be called, probably in 2017.
Since the mani pulite corruption scandals two decades ago that wiped out the traditional parties, the president of the republic has become “a referee of situations that political forces didn’t manage to control anymore,” said Stefano Stefanini, who was an adviser to Napolitano.
The president must decide who can best convince parliament to approve common electoral rules for the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, so soon after voters rejected Renzi’s proposal to trim the powers of the upper house. If they continue under different rules, the next government risks dealing with two conflicting majorities. Mattarella was quoted this week as saying it was “inconceivable” to call early elections before that dilemma is resolved.
It’s a risky role: Napolitano was accused by Silvio Berlusconi of plotting to remove him as prime minister in 2011, when he was replaced by former European commissioner Mario Monti as the head of a technocratic government.
“Italy and the Italian government are lucky that in this moment there’s a president of the republic who is not interventionist,” said Enzo Balboni, a professor of constitutional law at Milan Catholic University, who has known Mattarella for over 20 years. Mattarella will resist the temptation to appoint one of his own protegés to the prime ministership, said Balboni, and is someone who “works mainly behind the scenes.”
Against mob rule
Mattarella’s father Bernardo was a Sicilian political baron for the once-mighty Christian Democrats. When a former justice minister accused Bernardo Mattarella in the early 1990s of being the nexus between the party and Cosa Nostra, Sergio Mattarella hit back, calling the accusation “miserable.”
Mattarella’s elder brother Piersanti was elected president of the island’s regional government when Sergio was a university professor. But in 1980, Piersanti was killed by the Mafia. Three years later, Sergio decided to leave academia and become a politician himself.
“Piersanti was very charismatic, he would have naturally become a leader,” said Toia.
Although the younger Mattarella brother is often described as a somewhat grey figure, he took some bold decisions in his time as a minister, for example when he resigned as education minister in 1990 in protest at legislation that would clear the path to power for the media tycoon Berlusconi.
One characteristic of the current crisis in Italy is that, unlikely on previous such occasions when serving presidents have turned to the Bank of Italy in the search for a safe pair of hands to run technocratic governments — such as Lamberto Dini and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who later became head of state — this time the speculation includes Pietro Grasso, the former head of the national anti-Mafia bureau who now presides over the Senate.
This is partly because the Italian banking sector is in the throes of a crisis itself, and because the Italian central banker with most credibility, Mario Draghi, is busy running the European Central Bank. But it also reflects Mattarella’s own associations with the fight against organized crime.