Italy’s parliament begins voting on Monday for a new president, with Prime Minister Mario Draghi as the favorite., but far from guaranteed in a race that risks destabilizing the government.
Former billionaire prime minister Silvio Berlusconi withdrew from the race on Saturday, but despite continued bickering over the weekend, no clear candidate has yet emerged.
Berlusconi and Matteo Salviniof the anti-immigration party League, oppose Draghi’s candidacy, arguing that he should stay where he is while Italy emerges from the coronavirus crisis.
“It would be dangerous for Italy in a difficult economic time… to reinvent a new government from scratch”Salvini told reporters on Sunday.
But Enrico Letta, leader of Democratic party center-left, said Draghi had been an “extraordinary resource” for Italy and insisted his name was still on the table for the presidency.
The head of state is a largely ceremonial post, but the incumbent wields considerable power during political crises, from the dissolution of parliament to the election of new prime ministers and the denial of mandates to fragile coalitions.
The election, a secret ballot held over several days by more than 1,000 deputies, senators and regional representatives, is notoriously difficult to predict.
Draghi, former head of European Central Bank hired to head a national unity government a year ago, he is widely considered the most eligible candidate.
But many fear his departure as prime minister could spark chaos as Italy recovers from the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, or even a snap election, which neither ruling party wants.
With the disparate parties in the coalition of Draghi already in battle mode ahead of next year’s general election, further instability could put European recovery funds at risk.
“This is a key and very complicated election, because the political parties are weak, they are in a state of total fragmentation.”, he told the AFP Giovanni Orsina, director of the Luiss School of Government in Rome.
Italy has a notoriously unstable electoral system and has seen dozens of governments come and go since World War II., with the outgoing president Sergio Mattarella seeing five during his seven-year tenure.
But Draghi has led a remarkably united government comprising almost all political parties. from Italy since he was appointed by Mattarella in February 2021.
The third-largest economy in the eurozone has returned to growth after a harsh recession in 2020 caused by the pandemic.
And Draghi has initiated key reforms demanded in exchange for funds from the post-pandemic recovery plan. of the EU, of which Rome is the main beneficiary, for a sum of almost 200,000 million euros (225,000 million dollars).
Many international investors are concerned that Italy, burdened with debt, delay in the tight reform program if Draghi were to leave.
Others say that he would be better positioned as president to ensure political stability and good relations with Brussels, particularly if the far right wins the next election.
Own Draghi, 74, who is credited with saving the euro from a debt crisis while he was president of the ECB, last month hinted at his interest in the presidencybut has since remained silent.
The first round of voting begins at 3:00 p.m. (14:00 GMT) on Monday in the Lower Chamber of Deputies, and its result is expected tonight.
There is usually 1,009 voters, reduced to 1,008 on Sunday after an MP died after a long illness.
Commentators predict no progress until Thursday, the fourth round, when the threshold for victory drops from a two-thirds majority to an absolute majority.
Due to the high number of covid-19 cases in Italy, voters who have tested positive or are isolating will be able to use a drive-through polling station set up in the parliament car park.
More than a dozen alternatives to Draghi have been discussed in the press and by the different parties, many of them former ministers. The last name that came up was that of the head of the secret service Elizabeth Belloni, considered a remote possibility.
Berlusconi, who at 85 is plagued by health problems and remains embroiled in legal proceedings for his “Bunga Bunga” sex parties, he returned to the hospital on Sunday for what her doctor said were planned routine checkups.
(With information from AFP)
Finally, Berlusconi dropped out of the Italian presidential race