(Bloomberg) -- Media mogul Silvio Berlusconi pulled out of the running for Italy’s presidency shortly before voting starts, strengthening the prospect that Prime Minister Mario Draghi could be elected as head of state.
Italy’s longest-serving postwar premier, Berlusconi, 85, announced his decision in a statement as his Forza Italia party held a virtual meeting Saturday with fellow leaders of the center-right Matteo Salvini, of the anti-migrant League, and Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy. Berlusconi said that Italy today needs unity to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and that he wanted to avoid his name triggering division.
Financial markets are watching the euro area’s third-largest economy as the parliamentary ballot that starts on Monday could trigger political uncertainty and an early general election. Berlusconi had been canvassing lawmakers ahead of the presidential ballot, but failed to find sufficient backing. His own allies had offered only lukewarm support, with Salvini saying that he would be ready to back another unidentified candidate.
Draghi, who heads a wide-ranging coalition, benefits from Berlusconi’s move as the most high-profile figure to succeed President Sergio Mattarella. Becoming head of state would give 74-year-old Draghi a role at the pinnacle of Italian politics for the next seven years, though it would mean stepping back from running the country day-to-day.
Berlusconi went from real estate entrepreneur to media baron before becoming the country’s longest serving post-war prime minister. He was convicted of tax fraud in 2013 and lost his seat in the Rome Senate. Too old to go to jail, Berlusconi spent 10 months doing community service with elderly patients.
Italy’s stability isn’t at risk and Draghi will maintain a key role whether he’s elected president or remains prime minister, ex-premier Matteo Renzi said in an interview with Francine Lacqua on Bloomberg TV on Friday. Renzi ruled out a snap vote this year, saying he was confident elections would be held when parliament’s term ends in 2023. The yield on 10-year bonds dropped 1 basis point after Renzi’s comments.
The voting process could last days. Winning requires at least an absolute majority of ballots casted by lawmakers from both houses and regional representatives. The threshold is set at 505 votes.
Italian presidents hold mostly a ceremonial role, but they exert significant power over governments. They appoint the prime minister, and they have to sign legislation before it is approved.
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