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Italy’s next moral compass?  Berlusconi, 85, presidency of the eyes

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Italy’s next moral compass? Berlusconi, 85, presidency of the eyes

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ROME – Italy is set to elect a new president, who is expected to serve as a moral compass for the nation and foster unity by rising above the political fray.

Silvio Berlusconi thinks he fits the bill.

Never mind that he had a tax evasion conviction that got him kicked out of the Senate. As for his moral example, the 85-year-old has long shrugged off his outrage at his banter with young women at his ‘bunga bunga’ parties, once declaring ‘I’m not a saint’. In the most notorious case, he was eventually acquitted of charges that he paid to have sex with an underage girl.

From his last villa on the Appia Antica, the old Roman consular road, Berlusconi has been lobbying lawmakers outside his center-right group for weeks to vote when electing the next leader. State of the country for a seven-year term on January 21. 24.

On Tuesday, lawmaker and prominent art critic Vittorio Sgarbi, whom Berlusconi had tasked with seeking support, said the prospects of getting enough votes looked bleak.

But whether Berlusconi might decide to step down was unclear.

The new president will be chosen by a total of 1,009 electors – lawmakers from the Lower House of Representatives and the Senate, plus five senators for life and special regional representatives. The first three ballots require a two-thirds majority. After that, the threshold drops to a simple majority, 505 votes, and that’s Berlusconi’s goal.

“There’s been a kind of megalomania about this man from the start” of his business career, and he would “like to have his career crowned by the highest office in the land,” said John Harper, professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins. School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS Europe) in Bologna.

Berlusconi “could try if he has doubts about the numbers, and see if he is close to 500”, dared Harper. Or, if he’s convinced the numbers aren’t there, Berlusconi could drop his candidacy and back someone else. “And he will come out as the man who guarantees (national) stability and made a great gesture of sacrifice” by stepping down, Harper said in a telephone interview.

Berlusconi’s two main partners in a centre-right bloc, Matteo Salvini, who leads the Anti-Migrant League, and Giorgia Meloni, who leads the nationalist far-right Brothers of Italy, have publicly backed his quest for the presidential palace. on the Quirinal Hill.

But anxious to avoid any embarrassment for the bloc before the legislative elections, scheduled for spring 2023, Salvini is also pressing Berlusconi to guarantee victory or step down.

Given that it is “extremely unlikely” that Berlusconi could secure the necessary votes, it would become a question of when “he goes from candidate to kingmaker” by moving his bloc’s votes behind someone else, said political scientist Giovanni Orsina, professor at LUISS. University School of Government in Rome.

Former Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who leads the Democratic Party, slammed the centre-right’s decision last week to back Berlusconi as “a profoundly wrong choice”.

“Every (party) political leader is divisive, but when you think of Silvio Berlusconi, in the history of these 25 years, it’s hard to think of a more divisive political leader than him,” Letta told his party.

Berlusconi has long been plagued by claims by political opponents about conflicts of interest, since his business empire includes Italy’s three main private TV stations.

Earlier this month, a few hundred protesters marched through the heart of Rome chanting: “the Quirinal is not a bunga bunga”.

Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Roberto Fico, a leader of the 5-Star Populist movement, said on state television in an interview this week that the Italian president must be someone with “high morals”.

Berlusconi has struggled over the years with heart issues and other health issues and has been hospitalized with COVID-19.

The current head of state, Sergio Mattarella, whose mandate expires on February 3, has repeatedly declared that he does not want to run for president. Mattarella, who began his political career as a Christian Democrat, was a Constitutional Court judge when he was elected head of state in 2015.

For decades, the president’s role was seen as largely ceremonial, although the head of state could dissolve parliament if the legislature seemed hopelessly stalled. But recent presidents have played a more dynamic role.

Last year, Mattarella tapped Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, to lead a pandemic unity government encompassing left-right parties. Draghi took over from populist Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, after confidence waned – even among his allies – that the latter could guide Italy’s economy and society through the ravages of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Draghi, whose “whatever it takes” strategy has been widely credited with saving the euro during the financial crisis of the past decade, was coy when reporters repeatedly asked him if he wanted to be President, but he also left the door open.

Any waiver of Berlusconi’s bid for the presidency would be widely met with relief from European officials, “particularly against the backdrop of Italy’s restored prestige, with Mattarella and Draghi raising the country’s profile” on the continent, he said. said Harper.

Italy’s next moral compass? Berlusconi, 85, presidency of the eyes

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