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Italy President Mattarella set for second term after vote logjam

Mattarella, 80, had ruled out remaining in office, but with
the country’s political stability at risk, it was considered unlikely he would
resist pressure to stay on.

Mattarella’s “willingness to serve a second term … shows
his sense of responsibility and his attachment to the country and its
institutions”, Regional Affairs Minister Mariastella Gelmini said in a
statement.

The leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) Enrico
Letta, who had championed Mattarella’s re-election, spoke to reporters to
express his “enormous thanks to President Mattarella for his generous
choice towards the country”.

Parliamentary chiefs went to the president’s palace in
central Rome to ask him to remain in office, after lawmakers failed to elect a
president on Saturday after seven rounds of voting.

There was no immediate comment from the president himself.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who failed to find backing for
his own ambitions for the job, earlier called Mattarella and also urged him to
stay on, a political source said.

It is the second time in succession that a president has
been asked to renew his seven-year mandate.

In 2013, political leaders appealed to the then head of
state, Giorgio Napolitano, who was almost 90, after they too failed to find a
consensus candidate.

Napolitano reluctantly agreed, but stood aside two years
later after a new government was installed. Mattarella will almost certainly do
the same once the political situation allows it, many commentators have said.

CENTRE-RIGHT DISARRAY

The fruitless efforts to replace him have left deep scars on
the parties and their leaders, with the centre-right alliance in particular
disarray after losing any semblance of unity over the past 24 hours.

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This could have repercussions for the stability of Draghi’s
broad coalition government, which includes parties of left and right that have
been at loggerheads over the election of a new president.

“The political landscape has changed,” said Letta,
who has emerged stronger from the week of political manoeuvring and may seek
more weight in the cabinet for the PD.

While both Salvini’s League and Forza Italia in the end
embraced the prospect of maintaining the status quo, their ally the Brothers of
Italy, which has not joined them in the ruling coalition, denounced the
behind-the-scenes manoeuvring.

“Parliament has shown it is not fit for Italians,”
said Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni in a statement, accusing her
allies of “bartering away” the presidency to ensure the government
remains in place until the legislature ends in 2023.

The stakes have been high. The president is a powerful
figure who gets to appoint prime ministers and is often called on to resolve
political crises in the euro zone’s third-largest economy, where governments
survive around a year on average.

Unlike in the United States or France, where heads of state
get elected in a popular vote, in Italy, 1,009 parliamentarians and regional
representatives chose via a secret ballot that party leaders sometimes struggle
to control.

Threatening to take charge of the situation themselves,
lawmakers have been increasingly backing Mattarella in the daily ballots, with
his tally rising to 387 on Saturday.

A successful candidate needs 505 votes to win and Mattarella
looked set to comfortably pass the threshold at the eighth ballot.

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This began at 1530 GMT and is expected to last around three
hours.

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