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All About Italy’s Latest President – Sergio Mattarella

Sergio Mattarella became Italy’s 12th president-elect yesterday after much political wrangling and more than a little speculation over who was likely to end up in the presidential hot seat.

The day after Mr Mattarella’s election, Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper filled its pages with articles on Mr Mattarella himself, the ballot process and the political aftermath. Obviously what everyone wants to know, both in Italy and elsewhere, is who the blazes this man is so here’s a little background.

Who is Sergio Mattarella?

Sergio Mattarella
Sergio Mattarella

Born in Palermo, Sicily on 23 July 1941, to a prominent Roman Catholic family, left-leaning, former politician, ex-constitutional court judge and law professor Sergio Mattarella is 73. He has a degree in law from the university of Palermo and was a Christian Democrat party politician from 1983 to 2008.

Sergio Mattarella entered politics in 1983 soon after his older brother Piersanti Mattarella was murdered by the Sicilian mafia.

Piersanti had attempted to remove, or at least reduce, the influence of organised crime in Sicily. This sparked the anger of the Sicilian mafia who had him killed, despite, according to Wikipedia, attempts by the late Andreotti to prevent Piersanti Mattarella’s murder.

After his brother’s mafia instigated execution, Sergio Mattarella was charged with cutting mafia influence from his political party and was one of the supporters of Palermo’s anti-mafia mayor Leoluca Orlando.

What does this tell us about Sergio Mattarella? Well, the murder of his brother gives the impression he is probably not a great friend of the mafia, however, Mr Mattarella was once accused of taking a 3 million lira bribe in the form of fuel vouchers from one Filippo Salamone, a Sicilian businessman who was later convicted of aiding and abetting the mafia.

After investigations into the fuel-voucher affair, Mr Mattarella was cleared of any wrongdoing, even if Salamone, the businessman, claimed he had handed over much larger sums to Mr Mattarella.

The mafia, though, is not above attempts to blacken the names of those who threaten its illicit operations so whether Mr Mattarella did actually take money from the mafia is open to question but he does appear to have accepted the fuel vouchers.

Political Career

While he was active in politics, Sergio Mattarella held the positions of education, defence and parliamentary affairs minister.

Mattarella is known for the Mattarellum election law and for having objected strenuously to the Mammi bill which enabled Silvio Berlusconi to expand his television network nationally. Indeed, Mr Mattarella resigned in protest when the Mammi Act was passed in 1990. Mr Mattarella, it seems, is no friend of Silvio Berlusconi, or at least he was not in 1990, but times do change. Mr Berlusconi did send a message of congratulation to Mr Mattarella but has otherwise remained silent on his election.

The response of Mr Berlusconi’s family paper, Il Giornale, to Mr Mattarella’s election has been muted. Il Giornale reports that Mr Berlusconi and Mr Mattarella spoke telephonically before the vote on Saturday too. Could it be that Silvio Berlusconi does not want to bite the hand that might feed him a pardon? One wonders.

Mafia Rumours

Adding to mafia-related intrigue surrounding Italy’s president-elect Sergio Mattarella are rumours, and nothing more, that his father, Bernardo Mattarella was a member of the mafia. This was a rumour that Sergio Mattarella’s late bother Piersanti wanted to dispel – hence his attempt to reduce the mafia’s influence on politics in Sicily – an attempt which, you will remember, cost Piersanti his life.

Incidentally, Bernardo Mattarella was one of the founders of Italy’s now defunct Christian Democrat party.


Sergio Mattarella’s father was known for his anti-fascist leanings and, perhaps significantly, the first thing Italy’s president-elect did was to visit the site of the Ardeatine massacre in Rome.

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The Ardeatine massacre was the mass execution by German troops of 335 Italians in reprisal for an attack by partisans on German SS police in R0me.

Sergio Mattarella would appear to have inherited his father’s dislike of fascism. Reading between the lines, the Ardeatine massacre site visit could be a message to Italy’s increasingly vociferous far-right factions, led by the Northern League, that they should crawl back under their stones. Whether this message will be reinforced during Mr Mattarella’s presidency remains to be seen.

Wait and See

Mr Mattarella is not that well known in Italy and is virtually unknown beyond Italy’s borders. No longer a mainstream political player in Italy, nobody really knows what to make of him. There’s a sense of ‘wait and see’ in Italy, though Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is confident Sergio Mattarella will be one of the best president’s Italy has ever had.

Some in Italy have noted that Mr Renzi, who promised to scrap Italy’s old-guard run political system, has assisted in the election of someone who is very much from the ranks of Italy’s political old guard. This, perhaps, does not bode too well.

Mr Mattarella’s election also tends to confirm that Matteo Renzi is himself a neo Christian Democrat. So much for the scrapping of the old ways.

Approach Unknown

As to what kind of approach Mr Mattarella will have, that too, is an unknown.

Will he be as controversially hands-on as his predecessor, Giorgio Napolitano? Or will he be someone who rises above the political fray and attempts to keep Italy’s oft unruly politicians in check? We’ll see. From his media appearances so far, Mr Mattarella does appear to be rather quiet and reserved.

Political Reaction

The election of Mr Mattarella yesterday was greeted by applause in Italy’s parliament. This suggests, perhaps, that Italy’s generously paid politicians feel their futures are in a safe pair of hands. Well, the left-leaning ones do.

Italy’s right-leaning factions, including Berlusconi and his mob, did not appear to be overly happy with the election of Sergio Mattarella. Indeed, the election of Mr Mattarella, who benefitted from the votes of some of those in Silvio Berlusconi’s party and from the votes of the vaguely fascist New Centre Right party, is causing much friction. Italy’s political right is not right.

Traditionally in Italy, when a right wing government is in power, a left leaning president is elected. This is exactly what Berlusconi and Co were pushing for.

This time round though, in a break from tradition, and a display of Matteo Renzi’s power and, it has to be said, of his skill at the political game, a left leaning government has succeeded in electing a left leaning president of the republic. This represents a major victory for Mr Renzi and, on the face of it, something of a drubbing for Silvio Berlusconi and Italy’s right leaning politicians, some of whom, ironically, helped vote in a reputedly anti-fascist president.


Mr Renzi still needs the support of Italy’s right to pass reforms and, in theory, his victory on the presidential election front means that this support may not be as forthcoming as it was. However, by hinting to Mr Berlusconi that a pardon and a few friendly laws may be the rewards for his cooperation, Mr Renzi may well be able to maintain the support of Mr Berlusconi and his party even if some of its members are no longer too keen on doing Mr Berlusconi’s bidding.

The political game goes on in Italy. Now, everyone wants to understand the part president-elect Sergio Mattarella will play.

Photo credit

Mattarella 2015” by Presidenza della Repubblica. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons.

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