Italy could be in for a bit of a rough ride in the days immediately ahead, thanks to the resignation of its longest-serving president, Giorgio Napolitano.
The 89-year-old president consented to remain in office at the expiration of his last term after lawmakers were deadlocked on trying to choose a successor. But he said early on that he would not stay for the full six-year term, which ends in 2020. He tendered his resignation on January 14, leaving Prime Minister Matteo Renzi facing a tough slog in finding a supportive replacement.
Renzi has been pushing through unpopular economic and political reforms to keep Italy from having to seek a bailout. While Napolitano has been a backstop for Renzi’s efforts to push the economy back toward recovery, and could have been a valuable ally should rebellion arise—even some members of Renzi’s own party aren’t particularly enamored of his efforts, particularly since they have been slow to show results—the prime minister might not be so lucky with another president.
Despite its largely ceremonial nature, the office of the presidency carries some real powers, including the ability to dissolve the government and call for snap elections, as well as put forward candidates for prime minister. In fact, that’s how Renzi himself entered the office—at Napolitano’s hands.
Should Renzi have to resort to drastic tactics, such as calling for elections, to push through his reform programs, he would definitely want someone in office who is willing to back him to the hilt.
As it stands, to win such a candidate Renzi may have to compromise with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forzo Italia party or even Beppo Grillo’s Five Star party, both of which stand in opposition to his own Democratic Party. Currently Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso is serving as a caretaker president in Napolitano’s stead.
Elections are scheduled to begin on January 29, but with the way voting requirements are structured, it could take several rounds to come up with a likely candidate. And while numerous possibilities have been named as potential successors to Napolitano, including ECB President Mario Draghi, who has already declared himself out of the competition, compromise may be the only way to resolve a stalemate. But that could endanger the reforms that Renzi has been working so hard to implement.
Among other names voiced as potential presidential candidates are former Prime Minister Romano Prodi; Pier Carlo Padoan, economy minister; Ignazio Visco, governor of the Bank of Italy; and constitutional court judge Sergio Mattarella.