Italian Mattarella abandons retirement plan and remains chairman

  • Mattarella entered politics after the mafia killed his brother
  • Won the affection of the Italians with a calm and gentle manner
  • Pro-European, he served as a political arbiter

ROME, Jan 29 (Reuters) – President Sergio Mattarella had already signed a lease for a new apartment and called the packers, making it clear he wanted to leave the Quirinal Palace the minute his seven-year term expired on 3 February.

But instead Mattarella, 80, unexpectedly agreed to stay in place on Saturday and prevent a power vacuum, with Italy’s fractious parties unable to choose another figure capable of winning a majority in parliament . Read more

‘I had other plans, but if necessary I am at your disposal,’ parliamentarians quote snow-haired Mattarella after walking cap in hand to his official residence in the Quirinale to ask him to stay active.

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A former constitutional judge and former centrist lawmaker, Mattarella was initially elected president in 2015, becoming the island of Sicily’s first head of state.

Little known to many Italians, Mattarella had a reputation for being introverted and austere, but he quickly won over his compatriots with his calm and modest demeanor and his serene handling of repeated political crises and the COVID-19 health emergency.

On the eve of parliamentary elections to find his successor, polls showed that most Italians wanted him to stay.

Mattarella seemed destined for a life as a law professor, but immersed himself in politics after his brother Piersanti, then governor of Sicily, was shot dead by the Mafia in 1980. A photograph showed Mattarella holding him shortly before his dead.

Joining the Christian Democratic party his father had helped to found, Mattarella was elected to parliament in 1983 and served as Minister of Education, Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister for the next two decades, among other roles. .

In his inaugural address as president in 2015, he vowed to fight corruption and help reform Italy’s faltering economy, saying he saw himself as an impartial political “arbiter”.

His qualities as a referee were regularly put to use.

PRO-EUROPEAN

He has overseen the creation of four governments in seven years, including his surprise decision last year to call on former European Central Bank President Mario Draghi to form a government of national unity.

The mild-mannered Sicilian has never been afraid to stand up for his pro-EU ideals, threatening to sink a proposed government in 2018 after coalition partners fielded a eurosceptic for the job of economy minister.

The anti-establishment 5 Star Movement threatened to impeach Mattarella, but the president stood firm and the parties involved eventually backed down.

In many ways, he’s been a very traditional president, sticking to the old playbook of giving speeches, laying wreaths and saluting the national flag.

Slightly stooped, he is never seen without a tie or jacket and has won plaudits during the COVID crisis, refusing to line up when vaccines come out. Instead, he was pictured at a vaccination clinic, queuing with everyone.

Widowed since 2012, Mattarella has two sons and a daughter, who regularly stands by his side at large receptions.

He has previously said he believes presidents should only serve one seven-year term and it was not immediately clear whether he plans to serve a full second term.

His predecessor Giorgio Napolitano, the only other person to have been elected twice, resigned after just two years of his second term.

It remains to be seen whether Mattarella plans to give up his new flat in Rome or pay the rent in the hopes that he could still settle there before too many months pass.

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Reporting by Crispian Balmer Editing by Frances Kerry

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