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Italy: Mattarella re-elected president in eighth round of voting

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By Euronews  with AP
Italian President Sergio Mattarella in 2021
Italian President Sergio Mattarella in 2021   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Sergio Mattarella was re-elected as the country's president for a new seven-year term in the eighth round of voting in the Italian parliament.

After days of stalemate, Italian party heads urged 80-year-old Mattarella to change his mind amid concerns that protracted political squabbling would erode the nation's credibility.

He relented on Saturday afternoon, stating that he is at the country's disposal.

Mattarella won in the eighth round of voting when he clinched the minimum of 505 votes needed from the eligible 1,009 Grand Electors. 

Applause broke out in Parliament, prompting the Chamber of Deputies president to interrupt his reading of the ballots. The count then resumed, with Mattarella going on to win 759 votes.

In a brief, televised statement from the Quirinal presidential palace, Mattarella told the nation he couldn't let his personal desires prevail over a “sense of responsibility" during the ”grave health, economic and social emergency” Italy was enduring in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He added his commitment “to interpret the expectations and hopes of our fellow citizens”.

In the run-up to the presidential election this week, Mattarella repeatedly said he did not want another stint.

He even rented an apartment in Rome to prepare for his move from the presidential palace atop the Quirinal Hill.

But after six days of balloting in the parliament by lawmakers and special regional representatives failed to yield any consensus on a presidential candidate, party whips and regional governors visited Mattarella at the presidential palace to solicit his willingness ahead of what was the decisive vote on Saturday evening.

A chorus of Italian politicians publicly called for Mattarella to reconsider.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who heads the centre-right Forza Italia, said that unity "today can only be found around the figure of president Sergio Mattarella, of whom we know we're asking a great sacrifice."

Health minister Roberto Speranza, who heads a small left-wing party Articolo Uno, told reporters that Mattarella's re-election would be crucial for “a context of stability for Italy”.

The head of the populist 5-Star Movement, Parliament's largest force, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, also joined in the pressing. "Mattarella is the guarantor of everybody, impartial, authoritative,'' he told reporters.

A day after a candidate of the centre-right bloc fell far short of the necessary majority, right-wing leader Matteo Salvini of Lega Nord also said the 80-year-old Mattarella should reconsider his refusal of a second seven-year term.

Mattarella — a jurist who saw four different prime ministers serve during his term — told the party chiefs that he is "at Italy's disposal" right before Saturday evening's vote, effectively ending the impasse.

Seven-round bickering

Round after round of fruitless balloting since Monday made plain the deep rivalries among the parties in prime minister Mario Draghi's wide-ranging coalition, formed practically a year ago to lead Italy through the pandemic and guide the economic recovery with the help of billions in promised European Union funds.

Rallying rivals or even allies to back one name for president was elusive.

In balloting on Friday evening, Mattarella still garnered the most votes by far, despite at that stage claiming he is done with the largely ceremonial role.

“We think that it isn't serious any more to continue with ‘no’s' and cross vetoes," said Salvini, who heads the anti-migrant Lega and has ambitions to be the country's next PM.

Without citing sources, State TV's RaiNews24 said Draghi was contacting various political leaders to rally behind Mattarella.

In the latest crack among allies, far-right Brothers of Italy head Giorgia Meloni quickly attacked Salvini's lobbying for Mattarella.

“Salvini proposes that everybody goes to entreat Mattarella to have another term as president of the republic,'' Meloni tweeted. ”I don't want to believe it."

As the only major party leader in the opposition, Meloni has indicated she'd be happy to see Draghi, whose successful intervention as European Central Bank president in saving the euro currency, become president.

That would free up the PM’s office and possibly create enough political instability to trigger the early elections she wants, but others want to avoid.