Over the past few weeks, Italian parliamentarians and representatives of the country’s 20 regions have met to discuss who should become Italy’s new president. 85-year-old Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, citing his age, repeatedly turned down appeals from both sides to stay on for a second term. His seven-year mandate expires on May 18.
After numerous rounds of voting, the centre-left candidate Giorgio Napolitano, an 80-year-old life senator and former Communist, was voted President of the Italian Republic. Napolitano has served as Interior Minister and House Speaker. Italy’s president is elected in a joint session by the 630 members of the House, the 322 members of the Senate plus 58 regional delegates. Each region appoints 3 delegates, 2 representing the majority and 1 the opposition. The only exception is Valle d’Aosta which has 1 delegate. By tradition, the senators vote first, followed by the deputies and then the regional delegates. Under the Constitution, a two-thirds majority of 674 votes is required for a candidate to be elected on the first, second or third ballots. After that, an absolute majority of 506 votes is required.
Under Italy’s 1948 Constitution, the president must be over 50 and serve a seven-year mandate. Regarded as the impartial guarantor of the Constitution, the president is meant to be above the party fray and represent national unity. He is the titular head of the Council of Magistrates (CSM), the judiciary’s self-governing body, and the head of the armed forces. In practice, he has limited powers, holding no veto over legislation and playing no role in foreign policy. But it is his task to give the winner of Italy’s elections the mandate to govern. He also has the power to dissolve Parliament, after consultations with the speakers, except during the last six months of his term. The president signs parliamentary bills into law and can send laws back to Parliament if he thinks they are unconstitutional or lacking the necessary financial cover. He may only do this once, after which Parliament passes the law (usually but not always amended). The president is entitled to appoint five new life senators during his mandate. He ratifies international treaties on the authorisation of the House and has the power to grant pardons. The presidential appointment was necessary in order for left-wing elect, Roman Prodi to be sworn in as premier.