Italy’s parliament will convene on January 24 to begin voting for the country’s next president, in an election that could herald the end of national unity and disrupt investors betting on a continued economic recovery.
Roberto Fico, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, called on lawmakers from both chambers of parliament and representatives of Italy’s regions to take part in the vote, which could take several days.
Mario Draghi, Italy’s prime minister, made lawmakers uneasy before Christmas when he indicated he was ready to be named president. His potential resignation as prime minister could lead to elections, which would risk delaying structural reforms and investments linked to the EU’s pandemic recovery fund.
Many legislators and international investors would prefer the former president of the European Central Bank to remain prime minister until elections in 2023, to complete structural reforms and amid uncertainty in the country over the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Many MPs will also lose their jobs in the next election, after Italians voted in a 2019 referendum to reduce the number of parliamentary seats by more than a third.
Draghi is seen as a unifying figure for the clumsy governing coalition, which includes the center-left Democratic Party (PD), far-right League, populist Five Star and liberal Forza Italia, as well as small left-wing and centrist parties.
PD leader Enrico Letta warned that if the ruling coalition could not agree on a cross-party presidential candidate, a government crisis would follow.
The first choice of the center-right coalition parties, as well as the opposition brothers of Italy, is the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has made it clear that he is ready to accept the presidency. However, he will not be expected to receive support from Five Star or the PD.
Five Star said it would consider a woman like Senate Speaker Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati or Justice Minister Marta Cartabia. Former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato has also been nominated as a candidate.
The presidential election is held by secret ballot among more than 1,000 MPs and regional representatives and is often unpredictable. Each voter writes their preferred candidate on a piece of paper and brings out their ballot paper. For the first three rounds of voting, a two-thirds majority is required. Thereafter, an absolute majority is required.
President Sergio Mattarella, 80, whose seven-year term ends early next month, has repeatedly made it clear he is not seeking re-election.
Italy’s president’s formal powers include the appointment of the prime minister and other members of the government. The head of state also plays a major role behind the scenes in ensuring stability and respect for Italy’s EU and international obligations.