Italy’s right nominates three presidential candidates as deadlock persists

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  • The president has a key role in Italian politics
  • Prime Minister Draghi among top contenders for powerful post
  • A second round certainly without outcome
  • Centre-right proposals hardly stand a chance

ROME, Jan 25 (Reuters) – Italian lawmakers began a second round of voting on Tuesday to elect a new head of state, but it seemed certain it would not be conclusive, with parties reportedly no closer to find a mutually acceptable candidate.

Although Prime Minister Mario Draghi remains the likeliest choice, fears that his promotion to the presidency could split his coalition government and trigger a snap national election have complicated his prospects.

As a result, the race for the prestigious seven-year post is wide open, with political leaders negotiating behind the scenes to iron out their differences.

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Seeking to break the deadlock, the centre-right parties presented three possible candidates for the head of state – former Senate President Marcello Pera, former Milan mayor Letizia Moratti and Carlo Nordio, a magistrate retired admired by conservatives.

“We are not here to impose anything on anyone…we hope that these names will be received with the will to discuss them,” League leader Matteo Salvini told reporters.

Unlike the United States or France, where presidents are elected by universal suffrage, in Italy some 1,009 parliamentarians and regional elected officials chose the new president by secret ballot, which party leaders sometimes have difficulty controlling.

The centre-right has more presidential voters than the centre-left bloc, but neither side has enough votes to push their candidate through, meaning some kind of compromise deal will be necessary.

The centre-left promised to discuss the centre-right proposals “without prejudice”, but the trio of proposed names appeared to lack the necessary cross-party appeal.

“It’s a proposed list to be culled and allow us to move towards a common name,” said political scientist and pollster Lorenzo Pregliasco.

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After Monday’s inconclusive vote, a second round began at 3:00 p.m. (2:00 p.m. GMT), with the majority of lawmakers and regional delegates having to vote blank again – a way to buy time while their leaders decide what to do.

The president is a powerful figure in Italy. He has the final say in the appointment of the prime minister and is often called upon to resolve political crises in the eurozone’s third-largest economy, where governments barely survive a year on average.

A successful candidate needs a two-thirds majority in one of the first three ballots, with the threshold being lowered to an absolute majority in subsequent rounds. Parliament plans to hold one ballot per day.

Until recently, it was considered a virtual certainty that Draghi would move to the presidential palace, but his prospects have dimmed recently, with some politicians saying he should remain prime minister to avoid instability during the COVID-19 crisis.

Political commentators say Salvini is maneuvering behind the scenes to try to secure higher posts for his League party in a new government should Draghi become president. Salvini denied this.

Even if Draghi remains prime minister, he himself has warned that his government could nonetheless collapse if coalition partners fail to agree on a presidential candidate.

If, as expected, the initial center-right proposals fail, other names have been thrown in the media, including Senate President Elisabetta Casellati, former Lower House Speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini and former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato.

Some politicians have said they want incumbent President Sergio Mattarella to accept a second term. He has so far ruled out that possibility.

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written by Gavin Jones and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Tomasz Janowski

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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