ROME (Reuters) – Italian right-wing leader Matteo Salvini said on Friday that Prime Minister Mario Draghi should remain in his current role and not become head of state when the position comes free early next year.

Parliament will convene to choose a new president in January, and the former European Central Bank chief is the bookmaker’s favourite to replace the Sergio Mattarella, who has made clear he does not want another seven-year term.

Draghi has never sought to dampen talk that he wants to become president, but Salvini became the latest of several party chiefs to suggest it would be better for Italy’s political stability for him to carry on as head of government.

Salvini said that without Draghi at the helm it would be hard to keep afloat the broad national unity coalition that includes his rightist League party and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

“I make the effort to govern with the PD and Draghi walks off? We have prolonged the (COVID-19) state of emergency to March 31 and Draghi walks off?”, he said, speaking to reporters in the Sicilian city of Palermo.

“Draghi should remain prime minister. If you move a pawn it is not easy for everything to stay as it is.”

Four-times prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is the official presidential candidate of the conservative bloc that includes the League, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and the hard-right Brothers of Italy.

The election of the president, involving more than 1,000 parliamentarians and regional representatives, is notoriously unpredictable, conducted through a secret ballot in which rank and file party members often ignore the orders of their leaders.

Even if Draghi stays on as prime minister, his term will expire in around a year, with new parliamentary elections due in the spring of 2023.

(Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Crispian Balmer)



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