Italy’s lower chamber of parliament has set January 24 as the start date to begin voting for a new president, officially kicking off a campaign that is expected to see Premier Mario Draghi and ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi vie for the prestigious job.
The victor, who is chosen by around 1,000 “big electors” among MPs and regional representatives, will replace President Sergio Mattarella, whose seven-year term ends on February 3. The voting is expected to contineu for several rounds over several days.
The Italian presidency has limited powers and is largely ceremonial, but the president plays a key role in resolving political impasses, which are not uncommon in Italy. This election precedes a new season of campaigning before the 2023 parliamentary election.
During Italy’s political crisis last year, President Mattarella tapped Mr Draghi to lead a government of national unity to help guide the country through the pandemic and secure European Union funding for Italy’s recovery plan.
At his end-of-year news conference, Mr Draghi said he had accomplished what he set out to do, indicating his availability to move into the presidential Quirinale Palace and allow political parties to resume the process of governing.
The centre-left Democratic Party, which has recently topped polls with around 20% of voters, has voiced strong support for a Draghi presidency, believing that the internationally respected Mr Draghi would send a signal of continued Italian stability and credibility.
The centre-right, which, combined, far outpolls the Democratic Party, has instead rallied behind Mr Berlusconi, the 85-year-old media mogul and three-time premier. Mr Berlusconi, who faced continuous legal problems during three decades in politics, was acquitted by Italy’s highest court in 2015 of charges that he paid for sex with an underage prostitute during infamous “bunga bunga” parties.
On Tuesday, Italian news reports said the Five Star Movement was instead rallying behind a second Mattarella term. There has been no indication that 80-year-old President Mattarella would accept.