ROME (AP) — Former premier Silvio Berlusconi on Saturday bowed out of Italy’s presidential election set for next week, though he insisted he had nailed down enough voters to become head of state.

Berlusconi, 85, said in a statement that after much reflection he had opted to “take another step on the path of national responsibility.” The media mogul asked his supporters not to vote for him.

A lightning rod for political protests who survived sex scandals and a tax fraud conviction, Berlusconi said he doesn’t want his name to be the cause of “polemics or lacerations” that the country can’t afford in a pandemic.

The prospect of him winning a 7-year term as president, a position that is supposed to provide a kind of moral compass to the nation and represent national unity, already prompted a protest earlier this month in Rome.

Lawmakers in Parliament, as well as special regional electors, are expected to begin casting secret ballots on Monday to choose Italy’s next president.

Berlusconi said he planned to continue as head of the center-right Forza Italia party he founded three decades ago and to work to ensure that special presidential “grand electors” will elect someone “able to reap a vast consensus in Parliament.”


He also insisted that Premier Mario Draghi stay in office. The former European Central Bank chief is heading a pandemic-unity government but has indicated he is interested in becoming the successor to President Sergio Mattarella, whose term expires on Feb. 3.

Given the several hundred votes that Berlusconi and his right-wing allies could command in Parliament, Berlusconi’s insistence that Draghi stay in the premier’s office could complicate any quest by the economist credited with helping to save the euro currency to become president.

For weeks, Berlusconi had been sounding out his own conservative allies as well as lawmakers from centrist forces to see if he had sufficient support to be elected.

Parliament’s center-right bloc, including the parties led by anti-migrant leader Matteo Salvini, and far-right nationalist proponent Giorgia Meloni, had been pressing Berlusconi to make a decision about seeking the presidency as chances that he could garner enough votes by the election’s fourth round appeared uncertain.

A two-thirds majority is required in the first three rounds, making it unlikely a winner could emerge early on, given no one political bloc accounts for such a big margin. The fourth round requires a simple majority.

Past presidential elections have gone for days before yielding a victor.