Italy lawmakers disagree on new president, leaders seek consensus

FILE PHOTO: General view of the interior of the Italian Parliament in Rome, Italy, April 26, 2021. Alberto Pizzoli/Pool via REUTERS

By Angelo Amante

ROME, Jan 24 (Reuters) – Italian lawmakers failed to pick a new president in a first secret ballot on Monday as political leaders met to try to agree on a consensus candidate and avoid damaging political instability.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi remains the most likely candidate, but fears that his rise to the head of state could shatter his coalition government and trigger snap national elections have complicated his prospects.

A second round of voting will be held on Tuesday after most of the 1,008 “major voters” voted blank on Monday in a vote that lasted almost five hours.

The winner needs a two-thirds majority in any of the first three rounds, with an absolute majority thereafter being sufficient.

Although largely ceremonial, Italy’s presidential position is also highly influential, as the head of state is often called upon to resolve political crises in the euro zone’s third-largest economy, where governments survive just one year on average.

Draghi, who leads a government of national unity, has made it clear that he would like the position, which has a term of 7 years.

“I am working so that in the next few hours the center-right offers not just one, but several quality proposals,” League leader Matteo Salvini, a right-winger, said on Monday night, suggesting that a consensus was not being built behind Draghi.

Salvini was at the center of Monday’s cross-party talks, meeting separately with the leader of the center-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta, and former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who heads the 5-Star Movement, the largest force in parliament.

Following the meeting with Letta, Salvini and Conte said they were “working on some options” and would see each other again on Tuesday. The 5 Star Movement maintained that there was agreement on the need to find a mutually acceptable candidate “that unites the country.”

If Draghi were to become head of state, an agreement on another prime minister would be needed immediately to ensure instability does not jeopardize Italy’s push to receive some 200 billion euros ($226.8 billion) of aid funds. of the EU for the pandemic.

In case Draghi does not win the post of head of state, some analysts suggest that he will not want to continue as prime minister either, if the coalition that supports his government is divided by the presidential election.

(Editing by Gavin Jones and Alexander Smith. Editing in Spanish by Javier Leira)

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