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Italian parties to beg outgoing president to stay on

Italy's warring parties were set Saturday to beg outgoing President Sergio Mattarella to stay for another term, fearing political chaos due to a possible failure to elect his successor.

This handout picture taken and realeased on January 29, 2022 by the press office of the presidential Quirinale Palace shows Italian President Sergio Mattarella (C) talking with President of the Italian Senate, Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati (L) and President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Roberto Fico at the Quirinale palace in Rome. – Political leaders agreed, after days of deadlock of the electing of a new president, to hold two rounds of voting a day, rather than just one, after the six ballots since January 24 failed to produce anything resembling a winner. Mattarella, 80, secured the largest number of votes in Friday’s round of voting, despite repeatedly saying he will not renew his seven-year term. (Photo by HANDOUT / Quirinale Press Office / AFP) /

Italy’s warring parties were set Saturday to beg outgoing President Sergio Mattarella to stay for another term, fearing political chaos due to a possible failure to elect his successor.

The 80-year old — who has repeatedly ruled out serving again — won nearly 400 votes at the seventh ballot, and the parties in the governing coalition said they had struck a deal to elect him at the next round.

Mattarella will need to get 505 or more votes at the eighth ballot, which starts at 16:30pm (1530 GMT).

Italy’s presidency is largely ceremonial, but the head of state wields serious power during political crises, from dissolving parliament to picking new prime ministers and denying mandates to fragile coalitions.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief brought in to lead the government almost a year ago, had been touted for months as the most eligible head of state.

But some parties have insisted he is too precious a resource to lose as prime minister and many experts have pointed to the popular and trusty Mattarella as the best choice after a string of failed ballots.

“Let’s ask Mattarella to stay, so the team stays the same, with Draghi at Palazzo Chigi,” said Matteo Salvini, head of the far-right League party, referring to the prime minister’s office.

Salvini has found himself in a tight corner after proposing a candidate Friday that flopped.

Billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, who took a failed shot at the presidency himself, also said his party would vote for Mattarella to serve another term.

“We know we are asking him to make a big sacrifice, but we also know we can ask him in the country’s interest,” Berlusconi said, adding the Mattarella was the only unifying name on the table.

It would not be the first time: in 2013 president Giorgio Napolitano was elected to stay on, in an attempt to resolve the political stalemate left by an inconclusive general election.

But Mattarella, who has made it clear he does not want the job, may take some convincing.

Draghi was reported by Italian media Saturday to have spent some time with him, pleading the country’s case.

– ‘Ideal for financial markets’
Mattarella has already served a tumultuous seven-year term, where he has sought to be a unifying figure through five different governments and the devastation of coronavirus.

The Sicilian, who was a little-known constitutional court judge when he was elected head of state by parliament in 2015, has been appreciated by parties across the political spectrum.

Former prime minister Matteo Renzi said to his “great joy” the parties had a deal to elect Mattarella.

The center-left Democratic Party (PD) also appeared ready, with senator Andrea Marcucci tweeting: “This afternoon we will re-elect a great president. #Mattarella”.

Should Mattarella agree to stay — even if just for a year to get the country through to the 2023 general election — it would leave Draghi free to forge ahead with Italy’s post-pandemic recovery.

Debt-laden Italy’s economy has begun to revive but is banking on almost 200 billion euros ($222 billion) in EU funds to cement the trend.

The money from Brussels is dependent on a tight timetable of reforms.

International investors have been watching the election closely, amid fears that the timetable may go to pot.

“An extension of Mattarella’s mandate would be ideal for the financial markets,” Guido Cozzi, professor of macroeconomics at the University of St. Gallen, told AFP.

“Mario Draghi would remain in charge of the government… (and) the EU funding flows and planned investments would be guaranteed one for a delicate second year,” he said.