Berlusconi has decided not to run for president of Italy Political news

The 85-year-old campaigned behind the scenes for weeks to replace outgoing President Sergio Matarella.

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said he will not run for president in a statement, removing an obstacle to inter-party talks ahead of a January 24th vote in parliament.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s nomination is seen as the most likely outcome, but it is unclear whether the broad mass of parties supporting his coalition will support him for fear that leaving him could lead to early national elections.

Berlusconi said he wanted the former president of the European Central Bank to remain head 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” he said he had asked those who mentioned his name to withdraw him.

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

Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi votes in a polling station in MilanBerlusconi’s right-wing allies, the Matteo Salvini League and the Italian Brothers say they appreciate his decision [File: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters]

The right-wing coalition has called for Berlusconi to run for president, but his candidacy is unlikely to succeed due to difficulties in gathering the broad support traditionally needed among more than 1,000 participating lawmakers and regional delegates.

Berlusconi is a very divisive figure in Italy, and the center-left camp has already ruled out supporting him.

He was temporarily banned from public office following a tax fraud conviction in 2013 and is still on trial in the latest in a series of bribery of witnesses in a juvenile prostitution case involving his infamous Bunga Bunga sex parties for more than 10 years ago.

The President of Italy is largely a ceremonial position, but he plays a crucial role as an arbiter during political crises and has significant political influence during his seven-year term.

There is no clear winner

The winner of the secret parliamentary vote needs a two-thirds majority in each of the first three rounds of voting. Then an absolute majority is enough.

Neither the center-right nor the center-left bloc has enough votes to impose a candidate from their own camp, which means that some compromise is needed to prevent a prolonged stalemate.

“We will work with the leaders of the center-right … to agree on a name that can bring together a broad consensus in parliament,” Berlusconi said in a statement.

Berlusconi’s right-wing allies, the League of Matteo Salvini and the Brothers of Italy, said they appreciated 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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