By Gavin Jones and Angelo Amante
ROME -Italy’s lawmakers began a second round of voting on Tuesday to elect a new head of state, but it looked certain to be inconclusive with the parties apparently no closer to finding a mutually acceptable candidate.
Although Prime Minister Mario Draghi remains the most likely choice, worries that his promotion to president might shatter his coalition government and trigger early national elections have complicated his prospects.
As a result, the race for the prestigious, seven-year role is wide open, with political leaders holding behind-the-scenes negotiations to bridge their differences.
Looking to break the deadlock, centre-right parties put forward three possible candidates for head of state – former Senate speaker Marcello Pera, former Milan mayor Letizia Moratti and Carlo Nordio, a retired magistrate admired by conservatives.
“We are not here to impose anything on anybody … we hope these names are received with a willingness to discuss them,” League leader Matteo Salvini told reporters.
Unlike in the United States or France, where presidents get elected in a popular vote, in Italy, some 1,009 parliamentarians and regional representatives chose the new president in a secret ballot, which party leaders sometimes struggle to control.
The centre-right has more electors in the presidential ballot than the centre-left bloc, but neither side has enough votes to ram through their candidate, meaning some sort of compromise deal will be needed.
The centre-left promised to discuss the centre-right proposals “without prejudice”, but the trio of names put forward appeared to lack the necessary cross-party appeal.
“It is a list put forward to be shot down and enable us to move towards a shared name,” said political analyst and pollster Lorenzo Pregliasco.
After Monday’s inconclusive vote, a second round began at 3.00 p.m. (1400 GMT), with the majority of the lawmakers and regional delegates set to once again cast blank ballots – a way of playing for time while their leaders decide what to do.
The president is a powerful figure in Italy. He has the final say in naming the prime minister and is often called on to resolve political crises in the euro zone’s third largest economy, where governments survive barely a year on average.
A successful candidate needs a two-thirds majority in any of the first three rounds of voting, with the threshold lowered to an absolute majority in subsequent rounds. Parliament plans to hold one ballot a day.
Until recently, it was considered a near certainty Draghi would move to the presidential palace, but his prospects have dimmed recently, with some politicians arguing he should remain prime minister to avoid instability during the COVID-19 crisis.
Political commentators say Salvini is manoeuvring behind the scenes to try to secure more high-profile positions for his League party in a new government should Draghi become president. Salvini has denied this.
Even if Draghi remains prime minister, he himself has warned that his government might nonetheless collapse if the coalition partners fail to agree on a presidential nominee.
If, as expected, the initial centre-right proposals fall flat, alternative names floated in the media include Senate speaker Elisabetta Casellati, former lower house speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini and former premier Giuliano Amato.
Some politicians have said they want outgoing President Sergio Mattarella to accept a second mandate. He has so far ruled this out.