One aged man, grey and anonymous, stands watching pomp and ceremony as he is conferred with the title of head of State. Change the soundtrack and uniforms and it could be either the Kremlin or the Vatican. Instead it’s the Quirinale, the Italian Presidential palace, and the greyish figure is Italy’s newly inaugurated 11th President.
The View from Bologna’s last post outlined the institutional ‘pressing’ on outgoing President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi to accept election for a second term. Ciampi, we’re glad to say, refused, suggesting that a) none of his predecessors had served a second term and it would set an unwelcome, albeit consitutional, precedent and b) at the age of 85, he was looking forward to retirement (though he will become a Senator, and given the precarious balance of Prodi’s coalition, he will presumably spend much of his ‘golden years’ in the Italian Senate). Ciampi had the guts to face down political pressure, forcing the Italian establishment to turn towards the ‘youth’ to replace him. After a brief and controversial attempt to propose DS leader Massimo D’Alema (57), a compromise candidate was found – Giorgio Napolitano, aged 81.
Napolitano has all the prerequisites for President. He is, in order of statistical importance:
1. A Man – none of Italy’s Presidents have been missing a Y chromosome – at least as far as we know.
2. Over 70 – the average age of an elected Italian President is 70.5, with the oldest having been President Pertini (82), and the youngest President Cossiga (at a spritely 58, the only president in his fifties).
Much has been made of the fact that Napolitano is the first communist, or post-communist, to be elected to Italy’s (symbolically) highest office. La Stampa quickly put this into perspective with the comment that he was ‘the least communist communist in the PCI (Partito Comunista Italiano – which split apart after the fall of the Berlin Wall). In reality Napolitano’s edge on other grey candidates has been the fact that, while being a committed ‘party man’, he’s also well liked and respected by virtually all political party bigwigs. He’s a man of the system, who plays by the rules of the system, and is well liked – by the system.
No-one is suggesting that Napolitano won’t make a fine President. He is a diplomatic man observant of the rules prescribed by the Constitution. There are two serious problems, though. The first is that taking on an imposing new job at the age of 81 can’t be seriously advisable.
The second problem follows on from the first. If an 81 year old can carry out the role of President, it confirms that the role is largely symbolic. Well and good – if that’s the case, why award the role, yet again, to a sector in Italian society that is already over-represented in public life?
Both Romano Prodi and Silvio Berlusconi during their election campaigns talked long and hard about how their proposed governments would be pro-innovation, pro-modernisation, pro-women, pro-youth. In the end, the best the politicos could come up with is a man beyond retirement age.
There is of course one big difference between Vatican, Kremlin, and Italian Republic. Italians vote for their govenment (which in turns votes for the President).
So why is the outcome largely the same?