Italy Could Be Getting Its First Female Leader—But Don't Pop the Prosecco Just Yet

More than two months since a March 4 vote produced a hung parliament, Italian President Sergio Mattarella has very few options left to ensure the country's governability. One of them includes nominating the country's first female prime minister, a proposal that some Italian women see as a poisoned chalice.

For the past few weeks, Mattarella has been in consultations with all political sides represented in Italy's Parliament to see if anyone has enough support to receive a mandate to form a government.

He announced the impossibility of doing so in a statement to the country on Monday, giving lawmakers two choices: either call another election as soon as possible—an option that bears the obvious risk of producing yet another hung parliament—or give a mandate to what he called a "politically-neutral" government to steady the ship until a coalition is agreed, pass the yearly budget, and vote again by the end of the year.

The disputable honor could fall for the first time in Italian history on a woman, according to several Italian media reporting rumors from the Quirinale, the Roman hill where the president's office is located.

A woman stands in front of a waving Italian flag at the balcony of the Unknown Soldier monument on Piazza Venezia (Venice square) in Rome on July 5, 2009. Italy may be getting its first female prime minister as President Sergio Mattarella considers "neutral government" to break political deadlock. Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

The newspaper La Stampa, which first proposed the idea of a female leader in an editorial last month as a progressive change in society, named several possible candidates for the position.

They are all women who have a history of successful accomplishments, such as physicist Fabiola Gianotti, director-general of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva; economist Lucrezia Reichlin, professor at the London Business School; Constitutional Court judge Marta Cartabia, and Anna Maria Tarantola, former president of the national broadcaster Rai and a former director of the Bank of Italy. According to the newspaper Corriere della Sera, the list of possible candidates includes diplomat Elisabetta Belloni, former secretary general of the foreign ministry.

The position would come with a catch, as Mattarella explained. The prime minister of such politically-neutral government would have to promise not to run in the next election. The idea that a woman could make history in such a reduced capacity irked some Italian journalists. "It's almost a reflex," wrote Stefania Aloia in the newspaper La Repubblica. "When you need to do some cleaning up, sure, you need a woman," she commended, sarcastically.

Orsola Riva strikes a similarly frustrated tone in the Corriere: "Has the millennial practice of domestic work that made us better and wiser than our men in taking care of the home, in this case that of all Italian?" Writing for the Italian version of Wired magazine, Simone Cosimi judged the proposal "the perfect representation of national hypocrisy."

Controversy aside, Italy's future will be decided in the next 24 hours—such is the timeframe the leaders of the populist Five-Star Movement, which obtained a majority of the vote in the March election, and the far-right Northern League requested Mattarella on Wednesday for a last-ditch attempt to form a government coalition. Popping the prosecco will have to wait.