Italian right backs Berlusconi’s bid for presidency

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.   

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)

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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Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.