Italian head of state Sergio Mattarella was re-elected for a second term on Saturday, with party chiefs asking him to carry on after a week of fruitless, often fraught voting in parliament to choose a successor.
Relieved party chiefs thanked 80-year-old Mattarella for agreeing to remain, but the failed attempts to replace him during seven rounds of balloting have left deep scars, with potentially dangerous repercussions for political stability.
Nonetheless, financial markets are likely to react positively to the status quo, which will see Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who had made clear he hoped to become president himself, continuing on as prime minister instead.
At the eighth round among more than 1,000 lawmakers and regional delegates in the Chamber of Deputies, loud and prolonged applause broke out when Mattarella passed the 505 votes needed for election.
Mattarella had ruled out remaining in office, but with the country’s political stability at risk he changed his mind in the face of appeals from parliamentary leaders who met him at his palace earlier in the day.
In Italy’s political system, the president is a powerful figure who gets to appoint prime ministers and is often called on to resolve political crises. Governments in the euro zone’s third-largest economy survive around a year on average.
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 … for his generous choice towards the country.”
Draghi earlier called Mattarella and urged him to stay on, a political source said.
Relations among the parties in the ruling coalition have deteriorated during the election process amid mutual recrimination over the failure to find a consensus figure.
Draghi’s coalition includes the main centre-left and centre-right parties as well as the right-wing League, the once anti-establishment 5-Star movement and a range of smaller parties.
“The overall political backdrop has become less supportive for Draghi’s government, which is facing a daunting task in the year or so left before the next general election,” said Wolfango Piccoli of political risk consultancy Teneo.
On the right, while both the League and centre-right Forza Italia in the end embraced the appeal for Mattarella to continue, their ally Brothers of Italy, which has not joined them in government, 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.
She accused her allies of “bartering away” the presidency to ensure the government remains in place until the legislature ends in 2023, and said the conservative bloc “needs to be re-founded.”