In this file photo, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi addresses the media, as he leaves the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan Photograph:( AFP )
The 85-year-old media mogul, who is still embroiled in legal proceedings over his infamous 'Bunga Bunga' sex parties, while his business empire, which includes three private TV stations, has raised conflict-of-interest concerns.
Silvio Berlusconi has dropped out of the race to become next Italian president due to health issues.
The former premier claimed that he had the votes to win but the country could ill-afford political divisions during the pandemic.
Berlusconi added that the presidency “represents the unity of the nation, of the country that I love and to whose service I placed myself for 30 years, with all my energies, my abilities, my competency.”
The 85-year-old media mogul, who is still embroiled in legal proceedings over his infamous "Bunga Bunga" sex parties, while his business empire, which includes three private TV stations, has raised conflict-of-interest concerns.
Berlusconi taking himself out of contention brought reactions of relief, including from former premier Conte, whose 5-Star Movement had been branded by Berlusconi as a danger to the nation.
“We had said it clearly — the candidacy of Berlusconi was unacceptable,″ Conte tweeted. ”With his withdrawal we can take a step forward and begin a serious comparison among political forces to offer to the country a figure of high profile, authoritative, widely shared.”
Berlusconi also announced that he is opposing, along with his allies in a center-right bloc, any bid for the presidency by Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, has made clear he would like the job, but the broad sweep of parties that support his coalition are holding back from endorsing him for fear his departure could trigger early national elections.
Other figures considered to be contenders are former lower house speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini, former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, current speaker of the upper house of parliament, Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, and the current Justice Minister Marta Cartabia.
The president, elected for a seven-year term, normally has a largely ceremonial role, but enjoys extensive powers following elections or when a government falls. He has the final say in nominating the prime minister and other cabinet members.
The election, conducted by secret ballot among more than 1,000 parliamentarians and regional representatives, is an unpredictable process often taking several days.
Italy's rightist coalition had asked him to Berlusconi, but his bid was unlikely to be successful due to difficulties in mustering the broad support traditionally needed among more than 1,000 lawmakers and regional delegates.
The four-times prime minister had major heart surgery in 2016 and has survived prostate cancer. He has been repeatedly admitted to hospital over the past year after contracting COVID-19 in 2020.
(With inputs from agencies)