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Incumbent agrees to serve a second seven-year term after political parties fail to find an acceptable alternative candidate.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella has agreed to serve a second term, senior politicians said on Saturday, after parties failed to find a mutually acceptable alternative candidate in a week of often fraught voting in Parliament.

The 80-year-old had long ruled out remaining in office, but agreed to stay on after Italy’s governing parties – which failed to find a compromise candidate in a week of often fraught voting in Parliament – asked him to retain his position.

“President Sergio Mattarella’s willingness to serve a second term, requested by the overwhelming majority of political parties, shows his sense of responsibility and his attachment to the country and its institutions,” Mariastella Gelmini said on Saturday.

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 to President Mattarella for his generous choice towards the country”.

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It is the second time in succession that a president has been asked to renew his seven-year mandate. In 2013, political leaders went cap in hand to the then head of state, Giorgio Napolitano, after they too failed to find a consensus candidate.

Napolitano reluctantly agreed, but stood aside two years later after a new government was installed, opening the way for Mattarella.

Mattarella could potentially resign once the political situation allows it, commentators have said.

The fruitless efforts to replace him have left deep scars on the parties and their leaders, with the centre-right alliance in particular disarray after losing any semblance of unity over the past 24 hours.

While both Salvini’s League and Forza Italia embraced the prospect of maintaining the status quo, their ally, the Brothers of Italy, which has not joined them in the ruling coalition, denounced the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring.

“Once again, Parliament has shown that it is not fit for Italians,” said Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni, accusing her allies of “bartering away” the presidency to ensure the government remains in place until the legislature ends in 2023.

Influential role

The stakes have been very high. The president is a powerful figure in Italy who gets to appoint prime ministers and is often called on to resolve political crises in the euro zone’s third-largest economy, where governments survive about a year on average.

Unlike in the United States or France, where heads of state get elected in a popular vote, in Italy, 1,009 parliamentarians and regional representatives choose via a secret ballot that party leaders sometimes struggle to control.

Threatening to take charge of the situation themselves, legislators have been increasingly backing Mattarella in the daily ballots, with his tally rising to 387 on Saturday from 125 on Wednesday.

A successful candidate needs 505 votes to win and Mattarella looked set to comfortably pass the threshold at the eighth ballot, which began at 15:30 GMT and is expected to last about three hours.

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Source: Al Jazeera

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