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Italy casts mostly blank ballots in 1st round of presidential election

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Lawmakers and regional electors cast mostly blank ballots on Monday in the first round of voting in Italy’s presidential election amid a political stalemate.

A two-thirds majority is required to win the election during the first three rounds. Some six hours after the session began on Monday, lawmakers had cast 672 ballots without a name.

Outgoing President Sergio Mattarella, who has repeatedly said he did not want to run again, was among those who had support with some 16 votes.

The election was triggered as he came to the end of a seven-year mandate.

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A second round of voting is set for Tuesday afternoon but it’s unlikely that it will yield a conclusion with more political consultations scheduled.

Parties are scrambling to agree on candidates with neither of the main two blocs having enough votes for a simple majority.

Political parties held internal meetings over the weekend but were keeping names of candidates secret as the vote for Italy’s 13th president also will set the stage for the next political elections, with the current legislative mandate expiring in 2023, as well as the perennial political tussling over new electoral laws that is likely to ensue.

The presidency is a largely ceremonial post that still requires political acumen to steer Italy through its frequent political crises.

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Presidents can also send legislation back to Parliament and dissolve the legislature ahead of its term in case it loses its working majority.

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi withdrew his controversial candidacy to be president on Saturday. The 85-year-old has been undergoing tests at a hospital in Milan, his office confirmed Sunday.

Italy’s incumbent Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, is widely perceived as a popular choice for the role, but there are concerns that the move from PM to president could trigger an early election.

A former central banker and former head of the European Central Bank, Draghi helped Italy secure billions in European Union funding to relaunch the economy.

Draghi has said his role is largely complete, but some want him to stay on to reassure the EU that the funds will be properly spent.

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