Portugal Colonial - Italian parties to elect outgoing president, leaving Draghi as PM

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Italian parties to elect outgoing president, leaving Draghi as PM
Italian parties to elect outgoing president, leaving Draghi as PM

Italian parties to elect outgoing president, leaving Draghi as PM

Italy's parties were set Saturday to vote for outgoing President Sergio Mattarella to stay on for another term, averting the political chaos a failure to elect his successor could have sparked in the eurozone's third-largest economy.

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Electing the 80-year-old would end weeks of hand-wringing over whether prized Prime Minister Mario Draghi should be elevated, with many fearing such a move would leave the government rudderless at a highly sensitive time.

The eighth ballot began at 4:30 pm (1530 GMT) and Mattarella will need to pocket 505 or more votes.

The former constitutional court judge had repeatedly ruled out serving for a second term, but appeared to have given in Saturday after Italy's bickering political parties failed to find another viable candidate.

Constitutional expert Gaetano Azzariti told AFP Mattarella could theoretically refuse, but was not expected to. His election would be for a seven-year term, but he could resign early if he chose to.

Italy's presidency is largely ceremonial, but the head of state wields serious power during political crises, from dissolving parliament to picking new prime ministers and denying mandates to fragile coalitions.

- 'Big sacrifice' -

Matteo Salvini, head of the far-right League party, was the first to openly propose trusty and popular Mattarella Saturday, after putting forward a candidate Friday that flopped.

Billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, who took a failed shot at the presidency himself, also said his party would ask Mattarella "to make a big sacrifice", as did the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

It would not be the first time: in 2013 president Giorgio Napolitano was elected to stay on, in an attempt to resolve the political stalemate left by an inconclusive general election. He served nearly two more years.

Mattarella has already served a tumultuous seven-year term, where he has sought to be a unifying figure through five different governments and the devastation of coronavirus.

The Sicilian, who was a little-known constitutional court judge when he was elected head of state by parliament in 2015, has been appreciated by parties across the political spectrum.

Should Mattarella agree to stay -- even if just for a year to get the country through to the 2023 general election -- it would leave Draghi free to forge ahead with Italy's post-pandemic recovery.

- 'Ideal for financial markets' -

Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief brought in to lead a national unity government almost a year ago, has been key to reviving debt-laden Italy's economy.

Italy is banking on almost 200 billion euros ($222 billion) in EU funds to cement the trend, but the money from Brussels is dependent on a tight timetable of reforms.

International investors have been watching the election closely, amid fears that timetable may go to pot.

"An extension of Mattarella's mandate would be ideal for the financial markets," Guido Cozzi, professor of macroeconomics at the University of St. Gallen, told AFP.

"Mario Draghi would remain in charge of the government... (and) the EU funding flows and planned investments would be guaranteed for a delicate second year," he said.

Draghi has also managed to keep squabbling between Italy's parties to a minimum.

But the Repubblica daily pointed out that -- with the general election campaign already underway -- the year ahead "risks being a replay of the shambles we've seen over the past few days".

If he is elected, it will fall to Mattarella to keep the peace: "a task more difficult than we can imagine".