Italian parliamentarians yesterday began casting their votes for a new president after the scandal-plagued former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi abandoned his dream of becoming the next head of state.
More than 1,000 lawmakers and regional delegates would participate in the complex secret ballot, described as being akin to the appointment of a new pope, that could go through several rounds before a successor to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who is due to step down on Thursday next week, is elected.
The winner of the seven-year mandate requires a two-thirds majority within the first three rounds of voting; from the fourth, an absolute majority is sufficient. Only on three occasions in the history of the election has a new president emerged in the first round.
Berlusconi, who served Italy four times as prime minister, failed to garner enough support for his bid and in a heartfelt letter wrote that in the spirit of “national responsibility” he asked his backers to “give up” identifying him as a contender.
On Sunday, he checked into hospital for “routine” checks, his spokesman said, although two sources told Reuters that he had been in hospital since Thursday and there were reports in the Italian media that his family had been worried about his health.
Even though there are no official candidates in Italy’s presidential election, the 85-year-old broke from tradition and campaigned by calling up unaffiliated parliamentarians to tap them for votes, while augmenting his public persona by publishing full-page adverts in national newspapers highlighting personality traits and accomplishments that he said made him the best person for the job.
His renouncement removed an obstacle to negotiations on a mutually agreeable candidate between the political party leaders.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who has been credited with restoring stability in Italian politics, is seen as the frontrunner, even if broad support is not guaranteed over fears his move to the presidential palace could trigger early elections.
The most crucial issue at stake is the Italian government’s adherence to the reforms that need to be enacted to secure installments from the EU’s post-COVID-19 pandemic recovery fund, of which Italy is the biggest beneficiary.
Italy’s president is a largely ceremonial role, albeit with the power to resolve political crises, pick prime ministers, call early elections and approve or scrap laws.
Draghi, 74, has neither confirmed nor denied his interest in becoming president. Other possible contenders for the presidency include Pier Ferdinando Casini, a centrist senator who reportedly has good cross-party relations, Marta Cartabia, the justice minister, and Giuliano Amato, a former prime minister.
Neither the left nor the right hold enough power in parliament to call the shots, so the deadlock will need to be broken. Parliamentarians would vote once a day until a winner emerges.
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