Uncertainty as Italy’s presidential elections remain deadlocked after round two

A second round of voting for Italy's new president failed to produce a winner on Tuesday, prolonging the uncertainty over the future of Prime Minister Mario Draghi and his government.

The Quirinale Presidential Palace in central Rome.
The Quirinale Presidential Palace in central Rome. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

More than half of the almost 1,000 MPs, senators and regional representatives who voted left their papers blank for a second day, reflecting the lack of agreement on a candidate among the main parties.

A third round of voting will now be held Wednesday morning, although no breakthrough is expected until Thursday.

From the fourth round onwards, the threshold for victory falls from a two-thirds majority to an absolute majority.

Italy’s presidency is a largely ceremonial role but the contest this year has high stakes, as Draghi is tipped for the job.

His move would unsettle the fragile coalition, risk snap elections and potentially derail reforms required for billions of euros in EU recovery funds.

READ ALSO: ‘What is your will?’, PM Draghi asks Italy amid presidential deadlock

However, the presidential vote is notoriously hard to predict, with secret ballots, backroom deals and lack of a formal candidate list drawing comparisons with a papal conclave.

No political grouping has a majority in parliament. Instead, almost all the parties, from left to right, share power in a national unity government.

Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief, was brought in by outgoing President Sergio Mattarella in February 2021 as Italy reeled from a pandemic-induced recession.

His government has overseen a return to growth and a successful coronavirus vaccination campaign.

And he has begun major reforms — notably to the tax and justice systems and public administration – demanded by Brussels in return for almost 200 billion euros ($224 billion) in EU grants and loans.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about Italy’s presidential elections

Many international investors are concerned that debt-laden Italy would slip behind on the tight reform schedule should Draghi leave.

There are also many Italian MPs who fear losing their seats if his exit sparks early elections.

Others say Draghi would be better placed as president to ensure political stability and good relations with Brussels — particularly should the far right win the next election.

The head of state wields considerable power during political crises, from dissolving parliament to picking new prime ministers and denying mandates to fragile coalitions.

Paolo Maddalena, a little-known former judge who led the field in Monday’s voting, topped the list again on Tuesday with 39 votes.

An equal number voted for Mattarella, 80, despite his making clear he does not intend to serve a second seven-year term.

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Italy plans to stop ‘revolving door’ between judges and politicians

Italian lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a planned reform aimed at stopping the 'revolving door' between justice and government, as part of wider changes to the country's creaking judicial system.

Italy plans to stop 'revolving door' between judges and politicians

The proposed reform, which still has to be approved by the Italian Senate in the coming weeks, imposes significant limitations on the number of magistrates, prosecutors and judges looking to go into politics – a frequent move in Italy.

Under the submitted changes, a magistrate wishing to stand for election, whether national, regional or local, will not be able to do so in the region where they have worked over the previous three years.

At the end of their mandate, magistrates who have held elective positions will not be able to return to the judiciary – they will be moved to non-jurisdictional posts at, for example, the Court of Auditors or the Supreme Court of Cassation, according to local media reports.

Furthermore, magistrates who have applied for elective positions but have not been successful for at least three years will no longer be able to work in the region where they ran for office. 

The reform is part of a wider programme of changes to Italy’s tortuous judicial system. This is required by the European Commission to unlock billions of euros in the form of post-pandemic recovery funds.

Public perception of the independence of Italian courts and judges is among the worst in Europe, according to the EU’s justice scoreboard.