Media magnate Silvio Berlusconi has dropped his long-term offer to become Italy’s next president, just as the country is ready to elect a head of state from its infamous shaky political system for the next seven years.
In a widely anticipated withdrawal statement, Berlusconi, 85, insisted he had enough support to win the election. Italy’s highest office.
But the four-time former prime minister, who was convicted of tax fraud in October 2012, said he had decided to take his name out of consideration so that legislators from across the political spectrum could choose a less divisive candidate.
Berlusconi’s tenure has been plagued by sex scandals and alleged corruption, which undermines his quixotic quest to promote himself as a unifying national father figure.
“I have decided to take another step on the path of national responsibility,Berlusconi wrote on Facebook.
Although right-wing parties have vowed to support Berlusconi’s candidacy, left-wing parties have called his potential rise to the presidency unacceptable and warned that it could lead to the collapse of Italy’s fragile national unity government, led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
Berlusconi “was a hard sell and he clearly came to the conclusion that it could not be done,” said Daniele Albertazzi, an expert on Italian politics and right-wing populism at the University of Surrey.
It was later reported that Berlusconi, who suffered Covid in 2020, was admitted to hospital in Milan for routine medical tests.
Former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, president of the populist 5 Star Movement, tweeted that Berlusconi’s withdrawal would allow serious cross-party talks on a potential consensus candidate for the presidency.
“We made it clear: Silvio Berlusconi’s candidacy was unacceptable,” Conte tweeted. “With his retirement, we are taking a step forward and starting serious talks between political forces to offer the country a high-profile, authoritative consensus candidate.”
Draghi, a former president of the European Central Bank, has been identified as a potential presidential contender in a selection process that will formally begin on Monday, as more than 1,000 voters cast secret ballots for their preferred candidate.
Many in Italy’s business community are keen to see Draghi elected president – which will give him the powers to oversee Italy’s politicians and insist on the continuation of a € 200 billion EU-funded economic and social reform program.
But many politicians appear to be wary of elevating Draghi to the presidency.
Some would prefer a less formidable individual. Others are worried that Draghi’s rise could cause the collapse of the current fragile national unity government, as the diverse coalition was unlikely to agree on a successor prime minister.
“He would not just be there to unveil monuments and make speeches – he would exert real influence,” Albertazzi said. “Many individuals in parliament are concerned that the election of Draghi means that there should be new elections in the spring and they absolutely want to avoid it.”
Berlusconi said it was important for Draghi’s government to remain in place to pursue investment and economic reforms.
Italy’s presidential election is notoriously unpredictable as more than 1,000 lawmakers and regional representatives try to come together on a single candidate. A candidate must secure the support of two-thirds of the electorate in the first three rounds of secret ballots, but the bar is then reduced to a simple majority of 50 percent, plus one.