Italy again fails to elect president in fourth vote as parties buy time

The fourth round of Italy's presidential elections flopped before it began on Thursday, with parties unwilling to risk a crisis by picking Prime Minister Mario Draghi, but unable to agree on an alternative candidate.

Italy's current Prime Minister Mario Draghi is a frontrunner for this presidency, but his election risks destabilising the country.
Italy's current Prime Minister Mario Draghi is a frontrunner for this presidency, but his election risks destabilising the country. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

The right-wing bloc abstained and the centre-left cast blank ballots in the parliamentary vote, prolonging the uncertainty over the leadership of the eurozone’s third-largest economy.

After four days of voting, Italians had hoped for a breakthrough on Thursday when the threshold for victory falls from a two-thirds majority of the electoral college to an absolute majority.

Leaders suggested a deal might be found by a fifth round on Friday.

READ ALSO: No clear favourites in presidential race as Italy heads for fourth round of voting

Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief who has led Italy’s national unity government since February 2021, was the frontrunner going into the contest.

But concerns his departure would destabilise the coalition, threatening a tight reform programme on which EU recovery funds depend and risking snap elections, have persisted over days of intensive backroom talks.

Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigration League party, part of the right-wing bloc, insisted on Thursday that Draghi was “precious there, where he is now”.

The president is a ceremonial figure, but wields great power during political crises – frequent events in Italy, which has had dozens of different governments since World War II.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about Italy’s presidential elections

Without formal agreement between the parties, lawmakers are effectively refusing to vote – in each round so far, most ballots have been left blank.

Meanwhile, the list of potential alternatives to Draghi changes daily, from ex-premiers to judges and even Italy’s spy chief, Elisabetta Belloni.

Former Chamber of Deputies speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini and Senate speaker Elisabetta Casellati – who would be the first female president – are considered to be in with a chance.


Draghi has led a remarkably united government for the past 11 months, overseeing the economic recovery after a punishing pandemic-induced recession.

Many want him to stay to oversee major reforms to the tax and justice systems and public administration demanded in exchange for almost 200 billion euros ($225 billion) worth of funds from the EU’s post-virus recovery scheme.

But with parties already campaigning for the 2023 general election, many analysts believe he will find it increasingly difficult to get things done.

READ ALSO: The Italian vocabulary you’ll need to follow the presidential election

Former senate speaker Renato Schifani said it was “the first time I’ve seen parliament so divided”.

Some even raise the possibility that Draghi could tire of the politicking and resign as premier.

“If parties try to force the situation and elect another president with the support of only one side of the current national unity government, they risk Draghi’s resignation and snap elections,” said Lorenzo Codogno, a former head economist at the Italian treasury.

The electoral college is made up of more than 1,000 senators, MPs and regional representatives.

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Italy plans to stop ‘revolving door’ between judges and politicians

Italian lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a planned reform aimed at stopping the 'revolving door' between justice and government, as part of wider changes to the country's creaking judicial system.

Italy plans to stop 'revolving door' between judges and politicians

The proposed reform, which still has to be approved by the Italian Senate in the coming weeks, imposes significant limitations on the number of magistrates, prosecutors and judges looking to go into politics – a frequent move in Italy.

Under the submitted changes, a magistrate wishing to stand for election, whether national, regional or local, will not be able to do so in the region where they have worked over the previous three years.

At the end of their mandate, magistrates who have held elective positions will not be able to return to the judiciary – they will be moved to non-jurisdictional posts at, for example, the Court of Auditors or the Supreme Court of Cassation, according to local media reports.

Furthermore, magistrates who have applied for elective positions but have not been successful for at least three years will no longer be able to work in the region where they ran for office. 

The reform is part of a wider programme of changes to Italy’s tortuous judicial system. This is required by the European Commission to unlock billions of euros in the form of post-pandemic recovery funds.

Public perception of the independence of Italian courts and judges is among the worst in Europe, according to the EU’s justice scoreboard.