Quirinale Palzzo - office and residence of the Italian president

Secret ballot underway to elect president of Italy


Berlusconi dropped out of the running for the new president of Italy this weekend. Lawmakers and regional delegates will vote in a secret ballot for successor to Sergio Mattarella, who steps down on 3 February.

Italian parliamentarians will began casting their votes for a new president today. Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s scandalous ex-prime minister, abandoned his dream of becoming the next head of state at the weekend.

Over the coming days, more than 1,000 lawmakers and regional delegates will vote in the complex secret ballot. It is oft described as being akin to the appointment of a new pope. There could be several rounds of votes before a successor to Sergio Mattarella is elected.

In order to win the secret ballot, a two-thirds majority is needed within the first three rounds. An absolute majority is sufficient in the fourth round. It is rare for a new president to be elected within the first round; it has only happened on three occasions.

Berlusconi’s failed bid

Berlusconi did not gather enough support for his bid. He wrote that, in the spirit of “national responsibility”, his backers “give up” seeing him as a contender.

Berlusconi’s spokesman said he checked into hospital on Sunday for routine checks. However, Reuters quoted two sources as saying he’d been in hospital since Thursday and his family were concerned for his health.

In ordinary circumstances, there are no official candidates for president. However, the 85-year-old Berlusconi broke from tradition. He called on unaffiliated parliamentarians to tap them for votes. Meanwhile, he published full-page adverts in national newspapers highlighting his accomplishments. As he outlined his personality traits, he said he was the best person for job.

His renouncement opens the way for negotiations on a mutually agreeable candidate between the political party leaders. Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, vetoed the endorsement of the current prime minister, Mario Draghi. He argued that the former European Central Bank chief must remain premier until the end of the legislature in 2023.

Where does the support lie?

The current PM, Mario Draghi, is credited with restoring stability in Italian politics. Many see him as the frontrunner, though there are also concerns on what would happen if he left the premiership for the presidential palace.

“With Draghi there’s not so much enthusiasm on behalf of all parties,” said a source from the centre-left Democratic party (PD). “The Five Star Movement fear it will lead to early elections, and some within the PD fear there could be a government in which they will lose their ministerial jobs.”

Draghi, 74, has neither confirmed nor denied his interest in becoming president.

“The problem is that it’s a bit complex to move Draghi out of the prime ministership and put him in the presidential palace,” said Franco Pavoncello, a political science professor and the president of John Cabot University in Rome. “Here we have a star prime minister who is regarded as one of the big leaders of the western world. On the other hand, there is the sense that he might be more reassuring as president than as prime minister as long as he finds a good replacement, and that’s why the name of Colao is floating around.”

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. Meanwhile, a faction of the Five Star Movement is pushing for Mattarella to stay on for another year.

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