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Italy’s Berlusconi drops presidential bid

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Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has abandoned his bid to be elected as Italy’s next head of state, despite claiming to have enough votes to win and amid reports he has been admitted to hospital.

The 85-year-old right-wing politician said Saturday he had enough support to succeed Sergio Mattarella as Italian president, but was withdrawing out of concern his election would sow division at a time when Italy must focus on battling the coronavirus pandemic and implementing its recovery plan.

“I decided to take another step on the path of national responsibility,” he said in a Facebook post on Saturday, asking his supporters not to cast their vote for him.

Berlusconi’s statement came just days before voting is slated to begin on Monday. The aim is to conclude the election before February 3, when Mattarella’s mandate expires. Some 1,009 electors — 951 senators and MPs, along with 58 regional delegates — will cast their votes.

Reuters reported on Sunday that the Forza Italia leader has been hospitalized in Milan.

Few believed Berlusconi, who famously hosted sex parties during his time in office, could ascend to the venerable status of Italian president, an influential if often ceremonial post.

His insistence on running, and strong-arming his allies into supporting him, had blocked negotiations on an alternative candidate that could secure cross-party support. Even Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the most qualified candidate, saw his path obstructed by Berlusconi’s campaign.

“We had said it clearly: Silvio Berlusconi’s candidacy was inadmissible,” former Prime Minister and 5Star Movement leader Giuseppe Conte tweeted Saturday. “With his retirement we take a step forward and begin serious talks among political forces to offer the country a high-profile, authoritative, widely shared figure.”

Berlusconi made clear on Saturday he doesn’t support a presidential bid by Draghi, arguing the prime minister should remain in office to implement the country’s recovery plan.

This article has been updated.

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