Italian lawmakers will elect the country's next president on January 24 with current prime minister Mario Draghi among the contenders.
Even if their functions are in theory essentially honorary, the president of the Italian Republic has a key role in the event of a government crisis.
It was in this context that the outgoing president, Sergio Mattarella, turned to Draghi -- the former head of the European Central Bank -- in February to succeed Giuseppe Conte as prime minister after the latter lost his majority in parliament.
Draghi, 74, has since been at the head of a broad government coalition ranging from the left to Matteo Salvini's sovereignist League and the right-wing of Silvio Berlusconi, who at 85 would like to see himself as president but is considered divisive.
The Italian press has also been talking for weeks about the various names circulating to succeed Mattarella, an 80-year-old Sicilian who has managed to embody unity.
Among them is Draghi.
Asked repeatedly about his future at the end of December, Draghi didn't respond directly, telling reporters: "My personal destiny matters absolutely not at all. I don’t have particular aspirations of one type or another. I’m a man, a nonno (grandfather) if you like, at the service of institutions."
But he suggested that his eventual departure at the helm of the government would have little impact on the country's fight against the pandemic or the implementation of the €261 billion recovery plan, which envisages billions in investments in sustainable development, digital transformation and structural reforms.
“We have created conditions so that work on the (plan) can continue,” he said. “The government has created these conditions, independent of who will be (in charge). People are always important, but the other aspect is that it’s also important that the government is supported by the majority” in parliament.
The other leading candidate for president, who is backed by the centre-right, is ex-premier Berlusconi. Draghi demurred when asked Wednesday if he thought Berlusconi was a viable candidate, saying it's not for him to evaluate possible heads of state.
Among the other people tipped for the job is the former Christian Democrat president of the Chamber of Deputies, Pier Ferdinando Casini; former head of government and current European Commissioner for the Economy Paolo Gentiloni; and Giuliano Amato, an 82-year-old European enthusiast who helped draft the European Constitution.
The method of electing the president is rather complex. MPs and senators, joined by representatives of 20 Italian regions — about a thousand people in all — come together to vote.
In the first three rounds of voting, a two-thirds majority is required, but from the fourth round of voting onwards a simple majority is sufficient. Voting is by secret ballot, which has led to many surprises in the past, with many voters not hesitating to break away from party discipline.