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POLITICS

Mario Draghi wins political support to become Italy’s new PM

Italy could have a new government within days after economist Mario Draghi secured the support of most Italian political parties.

Mario Draghi wins political support to become Italy's new PM
Former head of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi at the Quirinale presidentia palace last week. Photo: AFP

With almost all political parties behind him, Mario Draghi on Friday entered the final stage of forming a new Italian government.

The former European Central Bank chief, called in after the outgoing centre-left coalition collapsed, could visit President Sergio Mattarella as early as Friday to be officially named prime minister.

PROFILE: Can 'Super Mario' Draghi lead Italy out of its crisis?

Draghi has spent the last nine days garnering support from Italy's political parties, with the aim of forming a 'government of national unity' to manage the deadly pandemic that hit Italy almost exactly one year ago, triggering a deep recession.

After securing the support late Thursday of the last key party, the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), Draghi has almost all the main parties on
board.

“The Draghi government is born,” headlined Rome-based daily Il Messaggero, while the Corriere Della Sera led with “Draghi in the home stretch.”

However, the 73-year-old economist has shown he is willing to take his time, and could yet take a few more days to finalise his cabinet.

Even if Draghi invites figures from outside politics onto his team, as he is expected to do, he still needs to get the agreement of a majority of lawmakers. He has been negotiating with Italy's various political parties since last week on a possible deal.

Italy has high hopes for Draghi, dubbed Super Mario after vowing to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro single currency in the 2010s debt crisis.

Mattarella asked him to step in on February 3rd after outgoing premier Giuseppe Conte resigned following weeks of political turmoil.

EXPLAINED: How are Italy's prime ministers chosen?

Outgoing Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte. Photo: AFP

Italy has been without a fully functioning government for almost a month since former prime minister Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party from Conte's coalition, triggering its collapse.

Conte resigned in hopes of putting together a new coalition and returning at its head, but this didn't happen. After failed talks, President Sergio Mattarella – who as head of state is refereeing the negotiations – called time and summoned former head banker Mario Draghi to form a new government.

Draghi's arrival was greeted with delight on the financial markets – Italy's borrowing costs dropped to a historic low this week – but the task facing him is huge.

The president has emphasised the urgency of moving quickly to fill the political vacuum, as Italy approaches the milestone of 100,000 Covid-19 deaths and the task of

As the new PM, Draghi would need to decide how to spend more than 200 billion euros ($243 billion) in grants and loans from the European Union's recovery fund to help it get back on its feet.

Draghi will have to balance demands for immediate relief against the need for long-term structural reforms in Italy – tensions that brought down the last government.

Meanwhile unemployment – at 426,000 higher than one year ago – risks rising further later this year, if an existing freeze on job dismissals is not extended.

Another priority is speeding up Italy's coronavirus vaccination programme, which made a promising start in December but has since slowed, against a backdrop of rising concern about the spread of new variants.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.

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