Italy party chiefs see a chance for president to be picked on Friday

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By Angelo Amante, Crispian Balmer and Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) -Italy's parliament will make a fifth attempt to elect a new president on Friday, with party chiefs sounding more confident about finding a mutually acceptable candidate for the powerful role.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi remains a contender, but his prospects have faded this week, with many lawmakers clearly reluctant to back him, partly because they fear any change to the government could trigger an early election.

Much is at stake. The Italian presidency comes with a seven-year mandate and has considerable power to resolve political crises that regularly batter the country, including appointing prime ministers and dissolving parliament.

Matteo Salvini, leader of the rightist League, told reporters that before Friday's vote he would propose to the centre-left parties several high profile, non-partisan figures with domestic and international appeal.

"I am confident that tomorrow will be the winning day," he said.

Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who leads the centrist Italia Viva party, also said he expected a president to be elected on Friday.

While Draghi's hopes have dimmed somewhat, there seems to be a rising possibility that Sergio Mattarella will be elected for another mandate even though the outgoing president, who is 80, has so far ruled this out.

Neither the centre-right nor centre-left groups put forward any names for Thursday's vote - the fourth this week - after various parties had shot down a raft of possible contenders, opening the way for intense, behind-the-scenes haggling.

Unlike in the United States or France, where presidents get elected in a popular vote, in Italy some 1,009 parliamentarians and regional representatives pick the head of state in a secret ballot https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/italian-presidential-elections-shrouded-parliamentary-secrecy-2022-01-13, which party leaders sometimes struggle to control.

Some sort of compromise seems necessary in the fragmented parliament where neither of the main blocs has a majority.

Two government members told Reuters on Thursday that the re-election of Mattarella was a strong possibility.

Even though the main party chiefs instructed their lawmakers to abstain or cast blank ballots in Thursday's ballot, Mattarella still got 166 votes, more than anyone else for the second day running, though well below the required 505.

Aside from Draghi and Mattarella, candidates cited for the job include Elisabetta Belloni, a career diplomat who heads the secret services, and Sabino Cassese, an 86-year-old former constitutional court judge.

Other possible contenders floated in the media include former lower house speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini, former premier Giuliano Amato, Senate speaker Elisabetta Casellati and

Justice Minister Marta Cartabia, who previously chaired the constitutional court.

(Additional reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Giulia SegretiEditing by Gareth Jones, Raissa Kasolowsky and Frances Kerry)

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