Italian President Sergio Mattarella yesterday chose Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni (the possibility of a short-term government) to replace Matteo Renzi as the country’s new Prime Minister. The choice, in line with the requirements of Italy’s constitution, points to a long season of political campaigning over at least the next few months. The priority until then will be the new electoral law and the country’s immediate domestic and international obligations.

Protests and courts

While some sections of the opposition parties have loudly protested the decision and demanded early elections Mattarella had little choice within the limitations of Italy’s supreme Charter.

In fact, rather than being a direct criticism of Mattarella, these protests are the first shots of the election campaign that all now expect. The only question will be its final date.

The first important date will be January 21st next when Italy’s Constitutional Court will hand down its determination on the constitutionality of the recently approved electoral law known as the “Italicum”. Any proposal for a new law will depend on this decision by the court and will start the political negotiations before the presentation of the draft law to Parliament. Given the delicate situation of the country politically there is no doubt that Mattarella, himself a former Judge of the Court, will keep a tight rein on any new modifications to the electoral law to avoid unnecessary delays or controversy.

Another clear sign of the upcoming national elections is the decision by former Premier Matteo Renzi (On announcing his resignation from office Prime Minister Matteo Renzi) to work full time in his position of Secretary of the majority Partito Democratico and in particular to shore up the party’s electoral base and to attract once more the young voters that were the moving force of his rise to power three years ago.

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Naturally, the opposition parties hoping to win the elections are maneuvering to gain the upper hand as the major candidate to form an alternative government. The Movimento 5 Stelle led by former comic Beppe Grillo will be looking for a major win as they obstinately refuse to collaborate with other parties and will want to form a government on their own. They led the cry for immediate elections because they are embroiled in a forged signature scandal currently under investigation and as their political rallying cry is for a return of honest government any decision to proceed to the courts on this matter will be a major blow to their ambitions.

The other opposition parties are currently undergoing a period of internal stress caused by Silvio Berlusconi’s insistence on playing a direct role in the party despite his ban from taking public office. While the members of his own party Forza Italia will not oppose him publicly, the other former government coalition partners have publicly stated that they are looking for new and younger leadership.

They are also in disagreement over the modifications to electoral law and these differences may cause problems in the formation of a successful coalition to fight what is looking like a three-way race for the next elections.

Political leadership and aims

In addition, the loss of the constitutional referendum on December 4th does not mean that reforms to the country’s political system are no longer required. If anything the week since then has only shown the need for such reforms and they will surely form part of the upcoming political campaign season.

While Gentiloni will form the new government over the next few days recent polls have shown that Matteo Renzi is still the first choice for his party’s members to lead them into the next election. The opposition groupings have now to decide who will oppose him as their figureheads for the campaign ahead.

In any case, there is now an intriguing period of political battles ahead for the country and nobody knows who will win what will probably be a very hard fought and bitter electoral war.