Napolitano re-elected Italy's president

Saturday 20 April 2013 19.11
Georgio Napolitano is one of Europe's oldest heads of state
Georgio Napolitano is one of Europe's oldest heads of state

Italy's newly re-elected President Giorgio Napolitano called on divided political parties to act responsibly in the days ahead.

He is trying once more to resolve the stalemate created by February's deadlocked election.

Last week, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, 87, cleared out his office and said: "They won't convince me to stay".

Mr Napolitano yielded to the pleas of Italy's squabbling politicians.

He agreed to a second term in office to try to end the chaotic stalemate left by February's deadlocked election.

No Italian president had ever been re-elected and Mr Napolitano may not serve a full seven-year term.

He could resign once the impasse is resolved, allowing a new head of state to be elected.

Italy was staring into the unknown with parties incapable of forming a government or electing a successor to Napolitano, whose term was due to end on 15 May.

In an interview with the daily La Stampa last Saturday, Mr Napolitano ruled out a second seven-year term, which he called a "non-solution" which would be "bordering on the ridiculous".

"What is needed now is the courage to make choices, to look forwards, it would be wrong to turn back," he said.

In the end however, he decided there was no choice after delegations from all the major parties apart from the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement trooped up the hill from parliament to beg him to stay.

Centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani had already resigned after dissidents in his own ranks sabotaged the two candidates for president he had proposed.

It exposed ex-Senate speaker Franco Marini and former prime minister Romano Prodi to humiliating defeats in parliament.

Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party had boycotted the vote for Prodi.

The party accused the centre-left of betraying a deal to elect a president acceptable to them and calling a protest outside parliament.

The vote for Mr Napolitano was immediately denounced by Beppe Grillo, the fiery leader of the 5-Star Movement.

He called it a "coup d'etat", and hundreds of protesters gathered outside parliament while the vote was going on.

It will now be up to President Napolitano to try to calm the fevered atmosphere in Rome.

As well as ceremonial functions, the Italian head of state has broad political powers.

Mr Napolitano demonstrated the powers in late 2011 when he appointed Mario Monti to lead a technocrat administration after the fall of Berlusconi's last government.

His repeated calls for unity and a sense of responsibility have made little impact on the bitterly divided parties.

President Napolitano is a former communist and member of a student anti-fascist group in World War II.

He has wide personal popularity in Italy and high regard from foreign leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama.

First elected to parliament in 1953, he has been a politician for most of his life.

As a politician he focused on European and Atlantic issues and serving as lower house speaker.

He was named Life Senator in 2005.

However, an institutional career built on seeking consensus and forging agreement has been increasingly out of step with the dysfunctional state of politics that his own re-election has underlined.