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Presidential election begins in Italy

FILE PHOTO: General view of the Italian Parliament as Prime Minister Mario Draghi addresses deputies on April 26, 2021 at Montecitorio palace in Rome with plans on how to spend EU recovery funds. Alberto Pizzoli/Pool via REUTERS

On Monday, Italy’s parliament will vote for a new president, with Prime Minister Mario Draghi among the leading contenders in a wide-open race that will be eagerly watched by financial markets.

The news: Politicians in Italy are concerned that the outcome will create new political turmoil in the euro zone’s third largest economy, which is dealing with a rise of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

  • The head of state is in charge of settling political problems, which is a crucial job in a country where governments only last an average of one year. When it comes to nominating prime ministers and other cabinet members, the president has the last word.
  • More than 1,000 MPs and regional delegates will gather at 1400 GMT for the first round of secret voting to replace outgoing President Sergio Mattarella, in a process that may take several days.
  • In any of the first three rounds, a two-thirds majority is required, with an absolute majority being sufficient thereafter.
  • Draghi, who currently leads a government of national unity, has stated that he is interested in the position, which has a seven-year term. Some parties, however, are hesitant to support him, fearing that his departure will lead to political chaos and an early election.
  • Because neither the center-right nor the center-left have enough votes to impose a candidate from their own camp, a compromise will almost certainly be required to avoid a deadlock.
  • Because such a settlement appears to be elusive, the first round of voting on Monday is very likely to be inconclusive.

What they’re saying: Both the 5-Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) said on Sunday that their MPs would vote with blank ballots to buy time while cross-party talks continue.

  • On Saturday, Berlusconi announced his withdrawal from the race. The centre-left had ruled out supporting the former prime minister because he lacked the necessary wide support.

What’s going on: If Draghi were to become president, a deal on a new prime minister would be needed right once to ensure that Italy’s bid for 200 billion euros ($226.80 billion) in EU pandemic relief money is not jeopardised.

  • Until recently, Draghi was widely regarded as the frontrunner for the presidency.
  • His chances appear to have dwindled, but he remains among the leading runners, with both Salvini and Berlusconi now pressing for him to carry on as premier for the final year of the government’s mandate.
  • Because most conversations take place behind closed doors, politicians’ public statements are frequently just tactical manoeuvres. Enrico Letta, the leader of the Democratic Party and a backer of Draghi, said on Sunday that he wanted to confirm with Salvini whether his rejection of the prime minister was final.
  • The centre-right parties have offered no new offers since Berlusconi’s exit, but Salvini claimed the alliance was ready to present some “high-profile” names for negotiation.
  • Former lower house speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini, former premier Giuliano Amato, Senate speaker Elisabetta Casellati, and career diplomat Elisabetta Belloni, who currently directs the secret services, are also prospective candidates.
  • Mattarella has said he will not seek re-election, but several lawmakers, including Letta of the Democratic Party, have urged appealing with him to do so.

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