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Political leaders struggle to choose the next Italian president

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Political leaders struggle to choose the next Italian president

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Italy’s political leaders are still scrambling to strike a deal that will give the country its next president

ROME — As Italy’s feuding political leaders on Saturday struggled to hammer out a deal to elect Italy’s next president, momentum seemed to be building for President Sergio Mattarella to reconsider his refusal to serve a second term as head of state , a role that is meant to unify the nation.

Round after round of unsuccessful polls since Monday have exposed the deep rivalries between parties in Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s broad coalition, formed nearly a year ago to lead Italy through the pandemic and the help to recover economically, thanks to the billions of funds promised by the European Union.

Gathering rivals and even allies to back a name for the president has so far proven elusive.

A day after a candidate from the center-right bloc fell short of the necessary majority, right-wing leader Matteo Salvini said Mattarella, 80, should reconsider his refusal of a second seven-year term.

In Friday night’s poll, Mattarella garnered by far the most votes, despite his oft-stated insistence in recent weeks that he considers himself finished in the largely ceremonial role.

“We think it’s no longer serious to continue with ‘no’s and cross vetoes,” said Salvini, who leads the anti-migrant League party and has ambitions to be the country’s next prime minister. He said it was time to “tell the president to reconsider.”

Without citing sources, state television’s RaiNews24 said Draghi was contacting various political leaders to side with Mattarella.

There is a risk that a prolonged stalemate over the election and the spectacle of political wrangling as the country battles the COVID-19 pandemic could damage Italy’s international credibility, which Draghi’s government had bolstered.

In the latest rift between allies, far-right Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni quickly attacked Salvini’s lobbying for Mattarella.

“Salvini proposes that everyone go implore Mattarella for another term as President of the Republic,” Meloni tweeted. “I don’t want to believe it.”

As the only major party leader in opposition, Meloni has indicated she would be happy to see Draghi, whose successful intervention as European Central Bank president to save the euro, become president. It would free up the prime minister’s office and perhaps create enough political instability to trigger the snap election she wants.

As the public feuds unfolded, efforts were made behind the scenes to find a candidate who could help unify the nation by being “super partes”, or above the political fray.

A name touted for weeks is that of Senator Pier Ferdinando Casini, whose different political identities seem to clash with the impartiality required of a head of state. Early in his career he was a staunch ally of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a conservative. But Casini also formed his own pro-Catholic centrist party, and the Senate seat he currently holds was won on a ticket that included the Democrats, Italy’s largest left-leaning party.

Political leaders struggle to choose the next Italian president

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