(Bloomberg) -- For weeks, if not months, the question in Italy and abroad has been whether Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi will replace President Sergio Mattarella when his term ends in February.
But after fraught talks and several rounds of voting by lawmakers, the former European Central Bank chief still hasn’t won, and the risk of instability in the euro-area’s third largest economy is growing.
What is the state of the talks?
Voting began on Jan. 24, and negotiations between parties soon became deadlocked.
Apart from Draghi, several names have been floated only to be quickly shot down. Those who may still stand a chance include: former Lower House head Pier Ferdinando Casini, jurist Sabino Cassese, long-time diplomat Elisabetta Belloni, and former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato. And of course, there’s always the option of reelecting Mattarella.
There’s no official list of contenders because lawmakers are free to write whatever name they wish on their ballot.
But Draghi seemed like the best candidate?
No one matches his status. Apart from serving as European Central Bank chief, the 74-year-old has been governor of the Bank of Italy. He’s widely respected at home, and abroad. There was a sense that with his government reaching the end of its mandate in 2023, making him president could install him as anchor of credibility for the next seven years.
Draghi had indicated he’d be up for the job, and has been reaching out to parties since voting started.
What’s the main problem?
There are too many questions over who would succeed Draghi as prime minister. In fact, those talks haven’t taken off yet.
Many members of the two chambers of parliament and regional representatives are concerned the negotiations would be too fraught. And they worry the government would collapse under a different premier, raising the risk of snap elections. That, in turn, would threaten Italy’s ability to deliver on reforms and receive more than 200 billion euros ($223 billion) of European Union funds.
Is that all?
No. Draghi has a very specific style of governing: He listens to all views and then takes decisions alone. This worked well for him initially — he pushed through painful reforms while keeping a fractious coalition together — but created resentment among rank-and-file lawmakers. Some say it’s their turn to feel empowered. Simply put, they want to make things difficult for him.
What kind of maneuvering is going on?
Lawmakers are meant to vote for the candidate their party agrees on, but because they cast ballots in secret, they don’t always do what they’re told.
On Friday, for example, Matteo Salvini wanted to push through a center-right candidate, Senate leader Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati. Her showing was even poorer than expected, indicating that not many lawmakers are listening to party leaders, and left Salvini weakened.
Will Draghi prevail?
There’s a sense lawmakers are exhausting all options and that Draghi may emerge victorious. A new term for Mattarella would be the easiest solution — lawmakers would keep their posts until an election in 2023 and parties would avoid a political clash over his successor.
At 80 years old, Mattarella has said he doesn’t want to stay on. That doesn’t mean he won’t be reelected, though. His predecessor, Giorgio Napolitano, didn’t want to either but ended up in office for a second partial term because parliament couldn’t agree on his replacement.
Is Italy safe if Draghi remains premier?
Not really. All the maneuvering has weakened the fragile and broad alliance supporting his government, which includes Salvini’s League, the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Party. While Mattarella’s reelection would offer some stability, we’d be in for unpredictable months. A spokesman didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.
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