ROME (AFP) – Billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi withdrew from the race for Italy’s presidency on Saturday, two days before voting starts, but repeated his opposition to Prime Minister Mario Draghi taking the job.
The 85-year-old media mogul, who is still embroiled in legal proceedings over his infamous gatherings, insisted he had the support in parliament to win – something analysts doubted.
But in a statement issued to the media, he said he was withdrawing in the spirit of “national responsibility”, to avoid further controversy.
Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief who has led Italy’s coalition government for the past year, remains the favourite to be elected head of state next week.
The governing parties, which range from left to right, including Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, have however yet to reach a deal – and with voting secret, the result is notoriously hard to predict.
More than 1,000 MPs, senators and regional representatives will begin voting today, with several rounds – each taking a day – expected before a result.
Indicating he hopes to play the kingmaker, Berlusconi said he would work with his right-wing allies to agree a candidate that can summon a “broad consensus” – but made clear it should not be Draghi.
He said the premier should stay to help implement structural reforms promised in return for almost EUR200 billion in European Union (EU) funds, on which Italy is relying for its post-virus recovery.
“I consider it necessary for the Draghi government to complete its work until the end of the legislature,” in 2023, when the next general election is due, Berlusconi said.