ROME - Italian centre-right parties confirmed on Friday they wanted Silvio Berlusconi to be the next president of Italy and said in a joint statement that they would seek wide support for him in parliament.
"The leaders of the coalition have agreed that Silvio Berlusconi is the right person to hold this high office at these difficult times," the centre-right chiefs said following a meeting at Berlusconi's Rome villa.
Italy's centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which has categorically ruled out backing Berlusconi as head of state, said it was "disappointed and worried" by the decision.
Voting among more than 1,000 parliamentarians and regional delegates begins on Jan. 24, with Berlusconi potentially standing in the way of Prime Minister Mario Draghi getting the prestigious post.
Neither of the two main blocs has enough support to ram through a candidate for head of state and the PD has called on all parties to try to build consensus around a figure who is not as divisive as the 85-year-old Berlusconi.
The anti-system 5-Star Movement, which has the largest number of parliamentarians, reiterated on Friday that it could never support Berlusconi, who has been convicted of tax fraud and still faces trial tied to his "bunga bunga" sex parties.
"Today it is necessary to put aside party affiliation, all the political forces must converge on a figure who can represent Italians and the country," said 5-Star vice president Mario Turco.
The centre-right bloc includes the League, the Brothers of Italy and Berlusconi's own Forza Italia. Although some of their supporters have expressed reservations about Berlusconi, Friday's statement pledged to try to build "wide support" for him amongst the lawmakers.
It also called on the former prime minister to say openly that he wanted the role.
Although there are no formal candidates at the presidential election, Berlusconi has been campaigning tirelessly behind the scenes to convince lawmakers to vote for him and has mobilised his media empire behind his bid.