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ELECTION

‘Italy needs unity’: Berlusconi pulls out of presidential race

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.

'Italy needs unity': Berlusconi pulls out of presidential race
Former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi waves at supporters during a rally in October. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The 85-year-old media mogul, who is still embroiled in legal proceedings over his infamous “Bunga Bunga” sex parties, 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 Monday, 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 200 billion euros in European Union 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.

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‘Italy needs unity’ 

Many analysts also worry Draghi’s departure would spark a crisis in the government and that debt-laden Italy would slip behind on a tight schedule to implement reforms to the tax and justice systems and public administration.

However, others say Draghi would be better placed as president to ensure political stability and good relations with Brussels — particularly should the far-right win the next general election.

While a largely ceremonial role, the president wields considerable power in times of political crises, from dissolving parliament to picking new prime ministers and denying mandates to fragile coalitions.

Berlusconi announced his decision at a virtual meeting with Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigration League party and Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy. He noted the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, saying: “Today, Italy needs unity…. I will continue to serve my country in other ways.”

Salvini praised his “generous” decision which he said enabled them to propose candidates “without any more vetoes from the left”.

Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, said the withdrawal had exposed a split in the right over Berlusconi’s candidacy, adding: “Now we need a high-level agreement over a shared name and a legislative pact.”

In the first three rounds, the winning candidate must secure two-thirds of  the vote. From the fourth round, they only need an absolute majority.

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POLITICS

Italy plans to stop ‘revolving door’ between judges and politicians

Italian lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a planned reform aimed at stopping the 'revolving door' between justice and government, as part of wider changes to the country's creaking judicial system.

Italy plans to stop 'revolving door' between judges and politicians

The proposed reform, which still has to be approved by the Italian Senate in the coming weeks, imposes significant limitations on the number of magistrates, prosecutors and judges looking to go into politics – a frequent move in Italy.

Under the submitted changes, a magistrate wishing to stand for election, whether national, regional or local, will not be able to do so in the region where they have worked over the previous three years.

At the end of their mandate, magistrates who have held elective positions will not be able to return to the judiciary – they will be moved to non-jurisdictional posts at, for example, the Court of Auditors or the Supreme Court of Cassation, according to local media reports.

Furthermore, magistrates who have applied for elective positions but have not been successful for at least three years will no longer be able to work in the region where they ran for office. 

The reform is part of a wider programme of changes to Italy’s tortuous judicial system. This is required by the European Commission to unlock billions of euros in the form of post-pandemic recovery funds.

Public perception of the independence of Italian courts and judges is among the worst in Europe, according to the EU’s justice scoreboard.

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