ROME (AP) — With special pandemic precautions, balloting began Monday in Italy's Parliament on who should become the country's next president, even as party leaders huddled to try to forge a consensus with no clear slate yet of candidates.
Italy’s lawmakers and a smaller group of special regional representatives are voting this week for a successor to Sergio Mattarella as head of state, a largely ceremonial post that still requires political acumen to steer Italy through its frequent political crises.
The president of the Chamber of Deputies, Roberto Fico, opened the first round of voting with instructions to the Grand Electors to use hand sanitizers before and after using the pencil provided to write down their choice for president.
But with any agreement on a candidate possibly days away, many lawmakers were expected to cast blank ballots Monday. During the first three rounds, an absolute majority of 672 votes is necessary to win. Starting with the fourth round expected Thursday, a simple majority of 505 votes clinches victory.
Ballots are read aloud one by one, and results of the first round weren’t expected to be known until late Monday evening.
As part of Covid-19 safety protocols, traditional voting booths, with drapery designed for secrecy, were replaced by easier to clean pass-through door-less structures. When the electors, starting with infirmed lawmakers and senators-for-life, finished voting, they deposited ballots in an ornate round container.
By special arrangement, 20 electors who have Covid-19 were allowed to cast their ballots at a parking lot drive-in behind Parliament.
The game opened wider after three-time ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi withdrew his controversial candidacy on Saturday. The 85-year-old Berlusconi has been undergoing tests at a hospital in Milan in recent days, his office confirmed Sunday.
Premier Mario Draghi has signaled his willingness to be elected to the post, but support from parties in the broad pandemic coalition are split over concerns that his move from head of government to head of state could trigger an early election before the scheduled time of spring 2023.
Berlusconi and his ally Matteo Salvini, the right-wing League leader, oppose Draghi's candidacy, largely worried that a Draghi move to the Quirinal presidential palace could trigger an early election.
But Giorgia Meloni, whose far-right Brothers of Italy is the only main party not in Draghi's government, has been eager for an early election and might not oppose a Draghi presidency.
The populist 5-Star Movement, Parliament's largest party, is split, because Draghi came to power when Mattarella last year tapped him to replace Premier Giuseppe Conte, their leader. The Democratic Party would like to see Draghi in the job, and is reportedly working with other parties to come up with a premier candidate to allow the current government to continue without a new election.
A former central banker and former head of the European Central Bank, Draghi helped Italy secure billions in European Union funding to relaunch the economy in what was Europe’s first pandemic epicenter. Draghi has said his role is largely complete, but some want him to stay on to reassure the EU that the funds will be properly spent.
By FRANCES D'EMILIO and COLLEEN BARRY Associated Press
Barry reported from Milan.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.