Napolitano will likely step down at the end of next month, after more than eight years as president, according to Italian media reports earlier this week.
While few will argue with the 89-year-old’s apparent wish to retire, the reports have sparked fears that Napolitano’s departure could destabilize the Italian government.
But Mattia Guidi, a fellow at Luiss’ School of Government, tells The Local that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi need not worry.
“There will be no impact on the government,” he says.
"Napolitano’s presence was needed [last year] but now the political system is a bit more stable, he thinks he can leave without there being any big consequences on the political system."
The president was all set to step down last spring, but politicians pleaded with him to stay on in order to get a government together after inconclusive national elections.
Giorgio Napolitano (L) with Enrico Letta.
Napolitano duly picked Enrico Letta as prime minister, who lasted until February when he was ousted by Renzi.
The president has no need to stick around now that Renzi is in power, Guidi says, as the prime minister’s cabinet has more legitimacy and is stronger than Letta’s government.
“Renzi is the leader of the main party and has the most support in the country,” he notes.
An ‘unpredictable’ choice
If Napolitano steps down, the prime minister is widely expected to pick the candidate who will go before a parliamentary vote.
Given that lawmakers failed five times to agree on a candidate last year - backing Napolitano on the sixth round of voting - the prime minister is likely to choose someone who has the opposition’s backing.
“The name will be agreed between the PD and [Silvio Berlusconi’s] Forza Italia, unless the situation gets completely out of control.
“But I think they will manage to find a name that everyone can agree on,” Guidi predicts.
Laura Boldrini, president of Italy’s parliament, has suggested that Napolitano could be replaced by the country’s first female president.
But while Guidi agrees this “is more likely than ever”, he says a moderate centre-left male politician would probably be picked by Renzi.
“If the first choice doesn’t get consent there might be less resistance to a woman,” Guidi says.
Possible candidates named in Italian media include Romano Prodi, twice prime minister and former European Commission president, and Mario Draghi, currently president of the European Central Bank (ECB).
But with a number of high-profile Italians being named Napolitano’s possible success, Guidi refuses to make a prediction: “This is one of the most unpredictable choices, it’s like the election of the Pope!”