AN ITALIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

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Mattarella elected president of Italy

AN ITALIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

What do we know about Italy’s new President, the honourable Sergio Mattarelia?   Will things begin to improve for the nation with their new leader? Or will they remain stagnant?

I have found and understand that Italians both at home and abroad do follow the presidential election, but it seems they possibly see it more as an entertaining race than as a scrutiny whose outcome might directly affect their daily lives. But even that view seems to be changing. By having a leader that is in touch with the issues that Italy is facing and is willing to work to   change pension reforms, a realistic and livable wage and better benefits for all citizens.

Looking beyond the formation of a new government, concerns are also rife that certain political groupings may turn their back on recent austerity measures and labor and pension reforms, undermining confidence in the euro-zone as a whole.   The European Commission feels that even though Europe’s executive body took note of the concerns of the Italian people, it also expected Rome to adhere to promises of reforms. It is hoped that with the election of a new leader and the appointment of new ministers the government will continue to deliver growth and an agenda for the creation of new jobs, and possibly setting a commission specifically designed for the eradication of all organized crime and illegal activities.

What is the role of Italy’s president? The head of state, whose term lasts seven years, commands the armed forces and can reject laws that he considers unconstitutional. While he’s often seen as a ceremonial figure symbolizing the unity of the nation, he also has the power to dissolve parliament, designate prime minister candidates and call early elections.   Yet, a woman has never been elected to the position of President. Why? Is it because no woman bears the qualifications for such a high level position? Is due in part that those in high level positions feel that women should not be involved? Or is it something else?

Giorgio Napolitano, the former communist whose resignation this month after nine years prompted the election, greatly expanded the traditional role of president, serving as a power-broker in Italian politics at the height of the euro zone crisis.   Napolitano, 89, reluctantly accepted an unprecedented second term in 2013 when another replacement could not be agreed upon. I just wonder if he resigned due to his age as had been reported and was losing his effectiveness as leader. Or was he forced out by Parliament for reasons unknown and using his age as an excuse as the reason why he stepped down.

Italian lawmakers elected Sergio Mattarella, a Constitutional Court justice widely considered to be above the political fray, as the nation’s new president on the third day of voting. Mattarella’s election as head of state was clinched when he amassed 665 votes in the fourth round of voting by a 1,009-member electoral college, composed of members of the two houses of parliament — the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies — and 58 representatives of the regions.

So what we do know about President Mattarella.

Sergio Mattarella, a constitional court judge from Sicily who is seen as a symbol of Italy’s battle against organized crime, was elected Italy’s new president on Saturday, January 31st, 2015.  The 73-year-old Sicilian, who was backed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD), succeeds the hugely popular Giorgio Napolitano, who is stepping down because of his advanced age.

Mattarella is little known to the public but is widely respected in politics after a 25-year parliamentary career and several stints as minister in governments of the left and right. Renowned for his integrity, he entered politics after his elder brother was murdered by the Sicilian Mafia.

We shall see in the months ahead how he will be received within the EU and other nations around the globe, particularly here in the United States. Italy remains a strong and active transatlantic partner which, along with the United States, has sought to foster democratic ideals and international cooperation in areas of strife and civil conflict. Toward this end, the Italian Government has cooperated with the United States in the formulation of defense, security, and peacekeeping policies. Under longstanding bilateral agreements flowing from NATO membership, as well as hosting important U.S. Military forces. The United States has about 11,500 military personnel stationed in Italy. Italy hosts the NATO Defense College in Rome. Italy is a leading partner in counterterrorism efforts, being a founding member of both the EU and NATO, and the U.S. and Italy cooperate in the United Nations, in various regional organizations, and bilaterally for peace, prosperity, and security.

Mattarella, a Sicilian, was first elected to Parliament in 1983. His Christian Democrat party collapsed in corruption probes of the 1990s, but Mattarella was unscathed. His older brother, Piersanti Mattarella, governor of Sicily, was killed in 1980 by the Mafia.

The silver-haired Mattarella, a widower with three grown children, lives in the modest quarters of Constitutional Court justices in Rome. He was expected to start the seven-year term the week of February 1st.

Known as a man of few words, Mattarella cemented that reputation with his first remarks to the nation: “My thoughts go, above all, to the difficulties and hopes of our fellow citizens. That’s enough,” he said, referring to the grim economic situation, in comments made at his court office just down the street from the presidential palace.

Italy is mired in recession and unemployment has hovered about 13 percent nationally. Young Italians are increasingly seeking work abroad. It is my feeling that President Mattarella truly understands why people are going to work abroad and shall put forth initiatives to stem the tide to turn the economy around as well work towards the creation of new jobs and a more livable wage for every person in the country. In the long run it shall be interesting to see how the new president handles continuing trade agreements with countries such as the United States, Canada, member nations of the EU and others in an effort to boost the visibility of the Made In Italy brand. It would a way to reduce unemployment by the creation of new jobs amongst other things.

Renzi pushed hard for Mattarella’s election, and some of Renzi’s rebellious Democrats resented the premier’s imposing his choice on them. So Mattarella’s victory signals that Renzi for now succeeded in closing fractious ranks, including former Communists, in the governing coalition’s main party. “Thanks for being serious,” Renzi and some loyalists wrote in a text message to Democrats during the balloting, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right opposition vowed to cast blank ballots. While acknowledging Mattarella’s credentials to be guarantor of the Constitution and arbiter in political crises, they complained Renzi didn’t decide to reach agreement first with Berlusconi on the candidate.   A year ago, Berlusconi pledged his support for the electoral reform agenda of Renzi, who had just assumed the Democratic Party leadership. Buoyed by the deal, Renzi quickly pushed fellow Democrat Enrico Letta out of the premiership. Berlusconi lost his Senate seat because of a tax fraud conviction but is keen on keeping political influence. A popular theory is that the Forza Italia leader was hoping for a sympathetic figure to be installed as president to increase his chances of winning a pardon over his criminal conviction which would allow him to return to parliament. Personally I don’t think would be the proper or correct thing to have happen and should not be allowed, if it were who knows what form of corrupt agenda and kick-backs Berlusconi would push forward in an attempt to undermine the new government.

Reforms include changing Italy’s electoral law to make governments more stable. Whether Berlusconi, irked over Renzi’s picking the presidential candidate, will renege on the reforms deal is unclear. A pro-Berlusconi lawmaker, Maurizio Gasparri, predicted the media mogul’s center-right lawmakers might be “less generous” with support.

In a way, the amount of propaganda and repression some non-democratic states set up against their own people is a testament to the people’s desire for more open and democratic forms of government. That is, the more people are perceived to want it, the more extreme a non-democratic state apparatus has to be to hold on to power.

However, even in established democracies, there are pressures that threaten various democratic foundations. A democratic system’s openness also allows it to attract those with vested interests to use the democratic process as a means to attain power and influence, even if they do not hold democratic principles dear. This may also signal a weakness in the way some democracies are set up. In principle, there may be various ways to address this, but in reality once power is attained by those who are not genuinely support democracy, is it easily given up.

 Kathy Kiefer

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