No winner yet in second day of Italian vote for president

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A view of the Italian parliament, in Rome, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, during a voting session for the election of Italy's 13th president. A first round of voting in Italy's Parliament for the country's next president yielded an avalanche of blank ballots on Monday, as lawmakers and special regional electors failed to deliver a winner amid a political stalemate. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, pool)

ROME – Italian lawmakers failed to agree again Tuesday in a vote selecting Italy's next president, as a consensus on who to support continued to elude party leaders.

On Tuesday, 1,008 Grand Electors, most of them members of Parliament with some regional representatives, were eligible to vote, but that second round of balloting, like Monday's, produced no winner.

Through Wednesday, a two-thirds majority of electors is needed to select a new head of state, a figure tasked with representing national unity. Starting with the fourth round of voting on Thursday, only a simple majority of 505 votes is necessary.

But even a simple majority could prove hard to achieve. Whether enough support can be found to elect Premier Mario Draghi as president is one of the possibilities being haggled over by party leaders.

In the past, some Italian presidential elections needed more than a dozen rounds of voting; one even went 23 rounds.

When it became clear that Tuesday’s vote would yield a new mountain of blank ballots, Democratic Party head Enrico Letta exhorted fellow leaders to come up with a deal that everyone all could live with.

“The proposal is to close everyone inside a room, throw away the key and stay there with bread and water until a final solution is reached,″ the Italian news agency LaPresse quoted Letta as saying after a huddle with fellow center-left leaders.

“Thursday needs 51% and we have to quit with the tactics” and instead work for a “shared name, impartial and without forcing things,″ Letta was quoted as saying.

On Tuesday evening, one by one, the Chamber of Deputies president read out what was written on the ballots. One elector voted for an Italian comic, triggering laughter. At the end, 976 of the 1,008 eligible voters cast ballots — and 527 of them were blank.

Draghi is heading an Italian pandemic unity government that includes left-wing, right-wing, centrist and populist forces. The former European Central Bank chief, widely respected in Europe, is considered keen to become president, which has a seven-year term. But party leaders in the unusual coalition are nervous about who might replace him as premier if he moves to the Quirinal presidential palace.

Many party leaders fear a change at the helm of government might trigger an early national election, which is now scheduled to be held by spring 2023.

Former three-time Premier Silvio Berlusconi and his ally Matteo Salvini, who leads the right-wing League party, have indicated Draghi should stay put.

Salvini and his partners in a center-right bloc proposed three possible candidates Tuesday — hardly household names— including a former Milan mayor, a magistrate and a former Senate president. But he seemed to indicate this was an opening gambit, telling reporters, “We're not here to impose anything on anyone.”

Former Premier Giuseppe Conte, who leads the populist 5-Star Movement, Parliament's largest party, was forced to resign the premiership a year ago when confidence ebbed that his government could steer Italy through the rest of the pandemic and ensure proper, swift implementation of billions of euros in EU recovery funds. Italy's outgoing president, Sergio Mattarella, then tapped Draghi.

Conte on Tuesday reiterated his stance that Draghi should remain premier.

“We entrusted the helm of a ship to a helmsman,” Conte said. “The helmsman can't leave (now).”

Italy's presidency is a largely ceremonial office. But the president can dissolve Parliament if it is hopelessly deadlocked, triggering an early election, send back legislation deemed in need of changes and tap someone to form a new governing coalition when needed.

In Monday's initial round of voting, the lack of agreement was reflected by an avalanche of blank ballots.