Italy’s presidential election becomes a showdown

EThe election of the Italian President has taken up a full working week so far. The result was up to Friday evening after a total of six cumbersome ballots in a secret roll-call vote: nothing. On Thursday evening, Matteo Salvini of the right-wing national Lega had promised that the around 450 electors of the center-right alliance would no longer hand in “schede bianche”, empty ballot papers – unlike the days before. Instead, they would all write the name of a candidate, that of Senate President Maria Elisabetta Casellati, on the ballot paper for the first time. And actually vote for someone for the first time since the start of the voting marathon on Monday. Instead continued for anyone. “I trust that tomorrow will be a good day,” Salvini, party leader of the right-wing national Lega, predicted on Thursday evening.

Matthias Rüb

Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta based in Rome.

But nothing came of it. Only 382 voters voted for the right-wing candidate on Friday morning. Almost 70 members of parliament and senators from the centre-right alliance must have voted for other candidates in the secret ballot. Or again for nobody: There were 406 abstentions. The 75-year-old politician from Silvio Berlusconi’s Christian Democratic party Forza Italia was even 123 votes short of the required absolute majority of 505 out of a total of 1009 electoral votes.

As many “empty” votes as in the first ballot

The poor performance of the conservative Catholic Senate President was not primarily a defeat for Casellati herself, but above all for former interior minister Salvini, the informal spokesman for the centre-right alliance. Because Salvini had not been able to keep the alliance together – he was even able to win enough votes from electors from the political center and from the circle of independents and non-affiliated parties to pave the way for the Senate President to move from the second highest to the highest state office.

On Friday afternoon there was another ballot, which, as expected, again led to no result. The three parties in the center-right alliance – alongside Lega and Forza Italia, Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist party “Brothers of Italy” – did not put their failed candidate Casellati back in the running. But gave back “schede bianche”. The parties on the left also abstained, so that there were about as many “blank” votes in the last round of the working week as there were in the first round on Monday. President Sergio Mattarella, who left office on February 3, received the most votes (336) in the sixth ballot, although he has been asserting for weeks that he will not be available for a second term of seven years. There were also 445 abstentions.

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