Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Saturday dropped his controversial bid for the Italian presidency, but refused to endorse current Premier Mario Draghi for the highly coveted position.
“I have decided to take another step on the path of national responsibility, asking those who had put forward my name for the Presidency of the Republic to give up,” Berlusconi said in a statement.
The 85-year-old’s candidacy for a post normally reserved to father-of-the-nation figures looked like a long shot, given his scandal-hit career, persisting legal problems and increasingly frail health.
His decision, coming after a videoconference with other leaders of the Italian conservative bloc, could make it easier to reach an agreement on a new president. But Draghi, seen as the frontrunner for the job, did not get Berlusconi’s backing.
“From today we will therefore work with the leaders of the center-right ... to agree on a name capable of garnering a broad consensus in parliament,” Berlusconi said, insisting that Draghi should stay as prime minister rather than moving up to the presidency.
The election will be decided by 1,009 delegates known as grand electors, comprising members of the two houses of parliament plus regional representatives. They are due to start voting on Monday via secret ballot.
In the first three rounds of voting, a two-thirds majority is needed, while a simple majority of 505 is required from the fourth ballot, which is expected to take place on Thursday and could be decisive.
Italy’s current president is Sergio Mattarella, whose seven-year term runs out on Feb. 3. Other than Draghi, contenders for the job include Pier Ferdinando Casini, a former speaker of the lower house of parliament, and Giuliano Amato, an ex-prime minister.