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Silvio Berlusconi and the mystery of the Italian presidential election

The news that Italy is due to have a new president later this month might not really make hearts beat.

But, dig a little deeper, and it’s more interesting than it looks at first glance.

How is the presidential election going in Italy?

First, it is one of the most idiosyncratic and mysterious presidential elections in Europe.

While in countries like France it is the people who elect a new president at the ballot box, in Italy it is the act of 630 deputies, 321 senators and 58 regional representatives.

More unusually, rather than limiting it to a sitting politician, Italy allows anyone over 50 with “full civil rights” to be eligible for the role.

The somewhat mysterious process, which takes place over the course of the rounds until a candidate obtains a majority, has drawn comparisons with the papal conclave and is an exception in Europe.

This resulted in non-politicians like Santo, Gianni Versace’s brother, actress Sophia Loren and even a boss of the “Ndrangheta Mafia” who were named.

Speaking to Euronews, Francesco Silvestri – an MP from the Five Star Movement – explained how some unlikely names end up appearing.

“There are deals and maneuvers going on that result in 10 or 15 votes for a specific person,” he told Euronews, “It’s all happening behind the scenes.”

Lawyer and constitutional expert Marco Ladu explained in more detail the rationale behind the perceived peculiarities of the process, namely why presidents are chosen secretly by lawmakers as opposed to the general public.

“There are two main reasons behind the peculiarity of it all,” he said. “To avoid the president’s contradiction with the will of the two chambers [in parliament] and to ensure that he or she has the necessary serenity and independence to fulfill his or her role, both of which could be compromised by a direct election.

Residing at the Quirinal Palace, the Italian president – as head of state – must ensure that the constitution is respected.

Unlike the Prime Minister, the President of the Republic has no executive function, and rather represents the “point of connection” between the three branches of power.

Although the role is largely ceremonial, the president can show his muscles, such as when appointing prime ministers or – as the head of the Italian armed forces – during wars and other national emergencies.

Why does Italy need a new president?

Because Sergio Mattarella, arrived at the end of his mandate of seven years, will leave his functions.

He has presided over multiple crises – such as the COVID-19 pandemic – and is widely seen as a beacon of stability during a particularly difficult time.

Mattarella enjoys wide public support, which means finding a replacement has been a challenge.

The list of proposed candidates includes fresh and less fresh faces, including former prime minister and controversial media mogul Silvio Berlusconi.

He helped make this election one of the most moving in the country.

What are the alternatives to Berlusconi?

As Italy heads into the first round on January 24, a variety of names have been put forward as possible candidates – although, due to the secrecy of the process, making reliable predictions is a tricky business.

Outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is widely seen as a popular choice for the role, although some commentators and investors fear his early departure from government will leave the country in an unstable position.

There have even been suggestions, particularly popular within the five-star movement, that Mattarella could be selected for the race again.

Of all the current suggestions, however, none are as famous – and intensely polarizing – as Berlusconi.

Aged 85, he ruled Italy three times between 1994 and 2011, at the head of the country’s center-right coalition, which brought together moderate Christian Democrats, die-hard post-fascists, and separatists of the North and even a handful of Social Democrats.

Throughout this tenure, Berlusconi has been embroiled in a variety of scandals that have intertwined his private and public life – ranging from reports of “Bunga Bunga” orgies and allegations of soliciting a child for sexual services to accusations. corruption and links to organized crime.

While his supporters praised him for his business acumen and magnetic appeal, he was condemned by his critics for allegedly fostering a Borgia-style patronage culture and for using his popular TV channels as vehicles for propaganda. electoral.

His crimes in the court of public opinion may have been many and diverse, but in the eyes of the law, it was tax evasion that sealed the deal. In 2013, he was convicted by the Supreme Court of Italy of tax evasion of around 7 million euros through his company Finivest, which earned him a four-year prison sentence (reduced to one year of community service) and removal from public office for six.

Such a journey may make him an unlikely candidate for the ceremonial of gravity expected of a president, and yet he is now the center-right candidate: the Northern League (Lega Nord), a populist far-right, led by former Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini. , and the National-Conservative Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia), whose leader – Giorgia Meloni – is the new Italian star in opinion polls, have officially joined their coalition ally to support his presidential candidacy. This despite dissent within the bloc – the leader of the League’s Chamber of Deputies group, Riccardo Molinari, called it a “source of division” – and Salvini’s strained relationship with Berlusconi, the having already criticized.

“Terrible ramifications”

Euronews spoke with Alex Bazzaro, member of the Northern League since 2018 and former head of Salvini’s social networks, to get his opinion on the next presidential election.

At just 34 years old, Bazzaro is one of the youngest members of the lower house and was ten days away from his seventh birthday when Berlusconi won his first general election in 1994. From now on, Bazzaro will enthusiastically support Berlusconi’s presidency.

“This is the first time that the center-right [coalition] offers its own presidential candidate, and that’s a good thing, ”he said. “The public will is there for him to be the leader of the country.

When asked whether Berlusconi’s scandals and controversies could prove unpopular among the League’s electorate – which is largely drawn to the party’s steadfast mantra of public order – Bazzaro reiterated his thoughts that his voters “would appreciate that the center-right has put forward and united behind its own candidate”.

Bazzaro’s response to Molinari’s accusations that a Berlusconi presidency could divide: “If he divides, it is only with the left.

Indeed, the eventual election of Berlusconi has left many people on the other side of the political spectrum, and even the former allies of the League’s governing coalition – the Five Star Movement – deeply concerned.

Silvestri, who is voting for the first time in the presidential elections, is particularly appalled by the proposal.

“If Berlusconi were to become president, it would be a very bad thing for us,” he told Euronews. “As a movement, we were born against everything it stands for, especially given its many trials and allegations of Mafia links.

“This would have terrible ramifications not only for Italy’s image but for its international credibility and therefore for the economy.

“After everything the country has been through, Italy simply cannot afford to have Berlusconi as president.”

Pollsters are currently predicting that a Draghi presidency is likely, but do not rule out Berlusconi’s chances. A recent poll suggested he was Italians’ second preferred choice for the role, showing his enduring – albeit highly divisive – appeal among audiences.

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