Italian politicians begin secret vote to elect president after Berlusconi rules himself out

Voting began mid-afternoon

Sofia Barbarani
in Rome
Monday 24 January 2022 18:36
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<p>Member of Parliament Matteo Salvini, left, prepares to cast his ballot in the Italian parliament</p>

Member of Parliament Matteo Salvini, left, prepares to cast his ballot in the Italian parliament

More than 1,000 Italian lawmakers and regional delegates on Monday began voting for Italy’s next president amid heightened security measures, including 800 policemen and surveillance helicopters.

With little common consensus among electors and a voting system shrouded in secrecy, it’s unclear who will take up residency in the Quirinal Palace after President Sergio Mattarella leaves. So far, no single candidate has garnered unabated support despite a handful of popular names.

A final decision should be known by the end of the week at the latest.

Incumbent Prime Minister Mario Draghi has been widely touted by pollsters as a possible winner. But talk of a Draghi victory has ruffled feathers, with many Italians concerned that any move from prime minister to president could fragment the country’s coalition government and result in snap elections.

“If Draghi were to move to the presidency, does this imply an unravelling of the government rather than a simple replacement of the prime minister?” director of Italian think-tank Istituto Affari Internazionali Nathalie Tocci told The Independent.

“The minute you take one piece out of the puzzle you never know what could happen, the risk is there.”

Draghi is, however, not the only hopeful in the race to the Quirinale.

Other contenders for Italy’s top position include a favourite of the Democratic Party and the Five Star Movement former minister Andrea Riccardi, Justice Minister Marta Cartabia and the head of Centrists for Europe, Pier Ferdinando Casini.

Local media reported Casini was trending on Italian social media, suggesting a spike in popular support for the 66-year-old politician.

Like frontrunner Draghi, Casini has decades of international experience.

One Italian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Independent: “Casini has stood out during his long political career by not allowing himself to get involved in chaos and arguments, which has been the prevalent scenario in the life of this country over the past 15 years,” said the diplomat. “This might be why he won’t get elected.”

Even outgoing President Mattarella, who’s eligible for another term, has received support from some of Italy’s political heavyweights like former prime minister Enrico Letta. Mattarella, however, has repeatedly said he would not be taking on the role again.

Meanwhile former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s presidential bid ended abruptly on Saturday following weeks of intense campaigning, with local media citing health concerns as one of the reasons for his stepping down.

"I have decided to take another step on the road to national responsibility, asking those who proposed it to renounce indicating my name for the Presidency of the Republic," Berlusconi said on Saturday.

He had received the backing of Italy’s centre-right coalition last week, despite his troubled past. Just hours before voting was set to begin, the coalition made up of centre to far-right parties had yet to announce a candidate.

Voting kicked off at 3pm local time in parliament under strict coronavirus measures and will likely be the first of four rounds.

A candidate can only win in the first three rounds if they secure at least two-thirds majority, while absolute majority is enough to win the fourth round.

In the absence of a collective deal among the main political parties, most are expected to cast blank ballots, leading to a second day of voting. If voting reaches a fourth round, a majority of 505 will be sufficient to elect the person who will become Italy’s 13th leader since the end of World War II when Enrico de Nicola became the new republic’s first president.

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