Draghi’s fate hangs in balance as Italy begins presidential vote

1st round inconclusive as expected, with 672 blank ballots, no cross-party consensus yet on common candidate

Alvise Armellini   | 24.01.2022
Draghi’s fate hangs in balance as Italy begins presidential vote


Italy’s parliament started voting Monday on a new president amid uncertainty over whether the man many see as the best for the job -- Prime Minister Mario Draghi -- will eventually land it.

“This is a referendum on Draghi,” Francesco Galietti, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Policy Sonar, a Rome-based consultancy, told Anadolu Agency.

“He is the only strong candidate. The other names that are circulating…are frankly underwhelming,” he said.

The presidential election, which is often compared to a papal conclave because it is just as unpredictable and rife with intrigue, is in the hands of just over 1,000 national and regional lawmakers who vote daily via secret ballots.

Monday’s first round was inconclusive, in line with expectations, with 672 electors casting blank ballots while political parties remained far from reaching the necessary consensus on a common candidate.

The election was widely expected to go on at least until the fourth round -- scheduled Thursday -- when the winning majority was due to drop from two-thirds to just over 50%.

Enrico Letta, head of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), told public broadcaster RAI on Sunday that he expected a cross-party breakthrough “within the next 48 or at most 72 hours,” adding that “Draghi is one of the options on the table.”

Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, who was credited for doing “whatever it takes” to save the euro, has had some success in restoring stability and raising Italy's international standing since he became prime minister in February last year, leading a grand coalition.

That record has made him a natural candidate for president -- a largely ceremonial role in Italy but who is also a key power broker who picks prime ministers, calls elections and discreetly influences government policy.

Draghi would likely reassure the European Union and financial markets, who would rely on him to watch that the nearly 200 billion euros (US$227 billion) Italy is due to receive from Brussels in pandemic recovery aid is spent responsibly.

But his promotion would throw open the question of a replacement prime minister -- a difficult choice that could bring about a much weaker government or snap elections if no agreement is found.

Therefore, a sizable number of lawmakers are reluctant to back him, especially those who have no re-election prospects and would lose a pension if parliament is dissolved before September. Many hail from the populist Five Star Movement.

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who halted his controversial presidential bid on Saturday, urged Draghi to stay as premier until the end of the parliamentary term in 2023, ostensibly to avoid disrupting government reforms. Matteo Salvini of the far-right League party has echoed this call.

To break the impasse, some have proposed reappointing President Sergio Mattarella, whose term runs out on Feb. 3, including PD leader Letta. But the 80-year-old has repeatedly said he wants to stand down.

Other contenders include Pier Ferdinando Casini, a former speaker of the lower house of parliament; Giuliano Amato, an ex-premier and Constitutional Court judge; and Justice Minister Marta Cartabia, who would become Italy’s first female president.

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