Billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi withdrew from the contest on Saturday, but despite continued wrangling over the weekend no clear candidate has yet emerged.
Draghi is facing opposition from Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and also Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigration League party, who says he should stay where he is.
“It would be dangerous for Italy in a difficult economic time… to reinvent a new government from scratch. It would stop the country for days and days,” Salvini told reporters on Sunday.
But Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, said Draghi had been an “extraordinary resource” for Italy and insisted talks would continue, telling Rai television: “Draghi is one of the hypotheses on the table.”
Italy’s presidency is largely ceremonial, but the head of state wields considerable power during political crises, from dissolving parliament to picking new prime ministers and denying mandates to fragile coalitions.
The election, a secret ballot conducted over several days by more than 1,000 MPs, senators and regional representatives, is notoriously hard to predict.
Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief brought in to lead a national unity government one year ago, is widely considered the most eligible candidate.
It was the currently serving president Sergio Mattarella, in fact, who inaugurated Draghi when the previous coalition collapsed.
But many fear his departure as premier could trigger chaos as Italy recovers from the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic.
With the disparate parties in Draghi’s coalition already in battle mode ahead of next year’s general elections, further instability could put European recovery funds at risk.
EXPLAINED: How do Italy’s presidential elections work?
“This is a key and very complicated election, because the political parties are weak, they are in an utterly fragmented state,” Giovanni Orsina, head of the Luiss School of Government in Rome, told AFP.
Italy has a notoriously unstable electoral system and has seen dozens of governments come and go since World War II – with outgoing president Mattarella himself seeing five during his seven-year term.
But Draghi has led a remarkably united government comprising almost all of Italy’s political parties.
Italy, the eurozone’s third largest economy, has returned to growth following a punishing recession in 2020 sparked by the pandemic.
And Draghi has initiated key reforms demanded in exchange for funds from the EU’s post-pandemic recovery scheme, of which Rome is the main beneficiary, to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($225 billion).
Many international investors are concerned that debt-laden Italy would slip behind on the tight reform schedule should Draghi step down as prime minister.
Others say Draghi would be better placed as president to ensure political stability and good relations with Brussels – particularly should the far right win the next election.
The 74-year-old himself, credited with saving the euro from a debt crisis while ECB chief, hinted last month he is interested in moving to Rome’s Quirinale presidential palace but has since kept his silence.
However, the majority of Italians – 70 percent – have expressed their preference for Draghi to remain as prime minister – not to take over the presidential role.
Just over one in ten – 12 percent – would like him to be elected President of the Republic instead of continuing as Italy’s premier, according to findings of a recent survey, Il fattore Draghi e la politica italiana (The Draghi factor and Italian politics).
And almost one in five – 18 per cent – say he “should not hold either office”.
Now that Berlusconi has pulled out from the race and, should voters fear Draghi’s election could cause the current government to collapse, other potential candidates have a chance to step into the role.
They include former lower house speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini, EU commissioner and ex-premier Paolo Gentiloni, former Socialist premier Giuliano Amato, and Justice Minister Marta Cartabia – who if successful, would be the first female president.
Berlusconi’s presidential bid was always a long shot, not least because he remains embroiled in legal proceedings over his “Bunga Bunga” sex parties.
He said he was quitting out of a sense of “national responsibility”, but media reports suggested his family were worried about his health.
Berlusconi, who at 85 is plagued by health problems and remains embroiled in legal proceedings over his “Bunga Bunga” sex parties, was back in hospital on Sunday for what his doctor said were planned, routine checks.
A spokesman confirmed to AFP Monday he spent the night at Milan’s San Raffaele hospital.
Drive-through voting for Covid positive electors
The first round of voting begins at 3pm Rome time on Monday in the lower Chamber of Deputies, with its result expected in the evening.
Voting is in secret, in person and will be slowed by social distancing requirements, with one round a day.
Commentators predict no breakthrough until Thursday, the fourth round, when the threshold for victory falls from a two-thirds majority to an absolute majority.
Because of Italy’s high Covid caseload, electors who tested positive or are isolating will be able to use a drive-through voting station set up in the parliament’s car park.