World Bulletin/News Desk
Italy's 89-year-old President Giorgio Napolitano stepped down on Wednesday after almost 9 years in office, a statement said, forcing Prime Minister Matteo Renzi into a politically delicate balancing act to appoint a successor.
Napolitano had always been expected to step down before the end of his second term, explaining two weeks ago that his advanced age had made it increasingly difficult for him to perform the duties of his office.
Speculation has been going on for months over who will succeed him in an office which has wide but loosely defined powers that range from naming prime ministers and vetoing laws to exercising moral suasion over government policy.
The 40-year-old Renzi has said he wants to quickly reach an agreement with both with his own party and political rivals to choose a successor.
But the secret parliamentary balloting is unpredictable and some analysts say Renzi may push for new elections if broad support for a new head of state cannot be found.
Napolitano, who was first elected to parliament in 1953, became president in 2006 as a prominent member of the Democratic Left, the rebranded Cold War-era Communists.
His supporters say he has been an anchor of stability in the country's political maelstrom, while his detractors see him as an arch representative of a discredited political class and accuse him of overstretching his powers.
Laura Boldrini, president of the Chamber of Deputies, parliament's lower house, will name the date for the election of his successor by 1,009 parliamentarians and regional representatives, which must begin within 15 days.
The voting, which requires a two-thirds majority in the first three rounds, can be highly unpredictable, with lawmakers using the secret ballot to scupper candidates and settle political scores.
Renzi said this week he was confident a president could be chosen in the fourth round, when only a simple majority is needed.
The search for a new president will be closely watched by other EU countries, hoping it does not cause instability in the euro zone's third largest economy. They are already concerned by elections in Greece on Jan 25 which point to a likely victory for the far-left Syriza party, also triggered over a prime minister's failure to win support for a president.
The search for a new head of state comes at a difficult time for Renzi. He has many enemies in his own Democratic Party (PD) who resent his uncompromising leadership style and oppose his plans for reform of the electoral law and the labour market.
The economy is still stuck in recession a year after he took office promising a rapid recovery, and he has struggled to produce deep reforms requested by the European Commission.
The reform process is likely to come to halt while parliament is occupied with the election of a new president.
There is no clear favourite to become the new president. Among names mentioned have been former Prime Minister Romano Prodi and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.Last Mod: 14 Ocak 2015, 12:10