Berlusconi renounces running for the Italian presidential election | Political news

The 85-year-old had been campaigning behind the scenes for weeks to replace incumbent president Sergio Mattarella.

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced he would not run for president in a statement, removing an obstacle to negotiations between the parties ahead of the vote in parliament from January 24.

The appointment of Prime Minister Mario Draghi is seen as the most likely outcome, but it remains unclear whether the wide range of parties backing his coalition will support him for fear his departure could trigger a snap national election.

Berlusconi has said he wants the former president of the European Central Bank to remain in charge of government until the natural end of the legislature in 2023.

In a statement during a virtual meeting Saturday with other right-wing leaders, Berlusconi insisted he had the numbers, but in the spirit of “national responsibility”, said he had asked those who had proposed his name to withdraw it.

“Today Italy needs unity,” he said, noting the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “I will continue to serve my country in other ways.”

Berlusconi’s right-wing allies, Matteo Salvini’s League and Italy’s Brothers, said they appreciated his decision [File: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters]

The right-wing coalition had called on Berlusconi to run for president, but his bid was unlikely to be successful due to difficulties mustering the broad support traditionally needed among the more than 1,000 lawmakers and regional delegates involved.

Berlusconi is a very divisive figure in Italy and the centre-left camp had already ruled out supporting him.

He was temporarily barred from public office after a 2013 tax evasion conviction, and is still on trial in the latest in a series of cases for bribing witnesses in an underage prostitution case linked to his infamous sex parties. “Bunga Bunga” more than 10 years ago.

The Italian president is a largely ceremonial post, but plays a crucial arbiter role during political crises and wields significant political influence during the seven-year term.

No clear winner

The winner of the secret parliamentary vote needs a two-thirds majority in one of the first three ballots. An absolute majority then suffices.

Neither the centre-right bloc nor the centre-left bloc have enough votes to impose a candidate from their own camp, which means that some sort of compromise is needed to avoid a prolonged deadlock.

“We will work with centre-right leaders…to agree on a name that can garner broad consensus in parliament,” Berlusconi’s statement said.

Berlusconi’s right-wing allies Matteo Salvini’s League and Italy’s Brothers said they liked his decision.

In a statement, Salvini said the center-right bloc was united and ready to make several “high-profile” proposals.

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