Silvio Berlusconi has reportedly threatened to withdraw his Forza Italia party from Italy’s ruling majority if current Prime Minister Mario Draghi is elected president later this month.
The scandal-stricken media tycoon, who has served as prime minister four times, will be in Rome on the hunt for votes as of Tuesday while he is on his way his own presidential campaign.
The secret election of more than 1,000 parliamentarians and regional representatives begins on January 24th and is expected to go through several rounds before a successor to Sergio Mattarella, who is stepping down on February 3rd, is elected.
There are no official candidates in the presidential elections in Italy, although party leaders usually try to agree on a candidate.
Berlusconi, 85, is a right-wing favorite for the seven-year mandate. The front runner, however, is Draghi, who is credited with both restoring stability in the country and maintaining the broad coalition.
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According to reports in the Italian press, Berlusconi said that without Draghi as prime minister, “Forza Italia would leave the majority”. Draghi’s potential promotion risks bringing the general election forward by a year. In a poll released Tuesday, over 50% of Italians said Draghi was the best person for the job, while 39% supported Berlusconi.
Berlusconi, who was temporarily banned from public office after being convicted of tax fraud in 2013 and is still on trial for alleged bribery of witnesses in a case of underage prostitution that is notorious for him “Flowers” SexpartysHe reportedly bombed parliamentarians ahead of what the Italian press has dubbed his “Operation Squirrel Campaign” in the run-up to the vote.
Antonio Tajani, vice-chairman of Forza Italia, said Draghi must remain prime minister and with Berlusconi as president, “the government would be solid”.
Draghi indicated in December that he would be ready to take on the role in the event of an election. However, he started a press conference Monday night with a veto on questions about the presidential race.
“Only Draghi can do that” [prime minister] Job, ”Tajani told La Stampa. “Without Draghi, it is impossible to have a unity government … we are participating in that government because of Draghi.”
Tajani said Forza Italia’s withdrawal from government would be inevitable if Draghi moved to the presidential palace. “The majority would implode,” he said.
Italy’s president has largely a ceremonial role, albeit with the power to resolve political crises, appoint prime ministers and call early elections. Mattarella was forced to intervene to resolve crises several times, including calling on Draghi to form a unity government last february after the collapse of the administration led by Giuseppe Conte.
Analysts believe that Berlusconi will struggle to find enough support for its offer, even if it is known for its smart “vote buyers”. On the eve of his campaign, he posted a photo of himself and his girlfriend Marta Fascina, a politician from Forza Italia, next to the message: “Happy Birthday” on Instagram. Fascina turned 32 on Sunday.