Italian right backs Berlusconi’s bid for presidency

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi takes off his face mask as he prepares to address the media, as he leaves the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan on September 14, 2020 after he tested posititive for coronavirus and was hospitalized since September 3
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi takes off his face mask as he prepares to address the media, as he leaves the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan on September 14, 2020 after he tested posititive for coronavirus and was hospitalized since September 3. (Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP)
Italy's right-wing parties agreed Friday to support former premier and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi in his bid to become head of state, ten days before voting begins in parliament.   

The declaration came after Berlusconi, 85, met with Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigrant League party and Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy.

A joint statement from their self-styled “centre-right” bloc said the office of Italy’s president represented national unity, emphasising the importance of “authority, balance and international prestige”.

“The leaders of the coalition have agreed that Silvio Berlusconi is the right person to hold the high office in this difficult situation, with the authority and experience that the country deserves and that Italians expect.”

READ ALSO: Who could be elected as Italy’s next president?

Berlusconi was prime minister for his centre-right Forza Italia party three times between 1994 and 2011.

His supporters had already made clear his ambition to succeed Sergio Mattarella, who steps down as Italy’s president after a seven-year term on February 3rd.

Just over 1,000 senators, MPs and regional representatives will begin choosing a new president in secret ballots beginning on January 24th, a process that is expected to take several days.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi has also intimated he wants the job, without making any formal declaration.

READ ALSO: What will happen if PM Mario Draghi becomes Italy’s next president?

Parachuted in by Mattarella a year ago to take over a fragile national unity government, Draghi, a former central banker who has no party of his own, risks being ousted in 2023 elections.

Italy’s president plays a largely ceremonial role but wields significant political influence, notably as arbiter in times of crisis.

Many commentators believe Berlusconi has no chance of succeeding in the presidential race. He has suffered a string of health issues in recent years and is still battling legal action over his “Bunga Bunga” sex parties.

However, he has made it known that if Draghi becomes president, Forza Italia will leave the government.

This runs the risk of collapsing the coalition, which includes all Italy’s main parties barring Meloni’s, and sparking early elections.

The new president must secure at least two-thirds of votes in the first three rounds, or an absolute majority thereafter.

Other potential candidates include former lower house speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini, EU commissioner and ex-premier Paolo Gentiloni, former Socialist premier Giuliano Amato, and Justice Minister Marta Cartabia – who if successful would be Italy’s first female head of state.


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