Mr Berlusconi, 85, said in a statement that after careful consideration he had chosen to “take another step down the path of national responsibility”. The media mogul asked his supporters not to vote for him.
Having stoked protests over sex scandals and a tax evasion conviction in the past, Mr Berlusconi said he did not want his name to be the cause of ‘polemics or heartbreak’ that the country cannot not afford in the event of a pandemic.
The prospect of him winning a seven-year term as president, a post meant to provide a sort of moral compass for the nation and represent national unity, has already sparked a protest earlier this month in Rome.
Start of voting imminent
Parliament lawmakers, along with special regional delegates, are expected to begin voting by secret ballot on Monday to choose Italy’s next president.
Mr Berlusconi said he planned to stay on as leader of the centre-right Forza Italia party he founded three decades ago and work to ensure that the “big voters” elect someone “able to garner a vote”. broad consensus in Parliament”.
He also insisted that Prime Minister Mario Draghi remain in office. The former head of the European Central Bank leads a government of national unity, but has indicated he wants to succeed President Sergio Mattarella, whose term expires on February 3.
Given the hundreds of votes Mr Berlusconi and his right-wing allies could garner in parliament, Berlusconi’s insistence that Draghi remain in the prime minister’s office could complicate any quest for the economist, credited with helping save the European currency, to become president.
For weeks, Mr Berlusconi had polled his own conservative allies as well as lawmakers from centrist forces to see if he had enough support to be elected.
Avoid splitting votes on the right
Parliament’s centre-right bloc, including parties led by anti-migrant leader Matteo Salvini and far-right nationalist leader Giorgia Meloni, had pressed Berlusconi to make a decision on the presidential bid, as the chances that he could garner enough votes by the fourth round of the election seemed uncertain.
Berlusconi, Salvini and Meloni could group around 400 of the 1009 electors.
A two-thirds majority is required in the first three rounds, making it unlikely that a winner could emerge quickly, given that no political bloc represents such a large margin. The fourth round requires a simple majority.
Previous presidential elections have dragged on for days before yielding a winner.