Italian President Resigns

Italian President ResignsItalian President Resigns

Italy’s veteran President Giorgio Napolitano resigned Wednesday, setting the stage for the election of a new head of state, a difficult process which could prove a political headache for Matteo Renzi’s government.

The 89-year old had announced in December that he would be leaving office well before the end of his term in 2020 because of his poor health and advancing age, AFP said in a report. He had been persuaded in 2013 to stay on for an unprecedented second term after deadlocked elections sparked a political crisis in the eurozone’s third-largest economy -- but had always been expected to step down early.

Prime Minister Renzi paid tribute to the president, telling the European Parliament that Napolitano had been a man driven by the desire to reform, who “faced moments of great difficulty with intelligence and wisdom.”

Parliament now has to meet within 15 days along with 58 regional deputies to begin elections to choose a new president.

Potential candidates for the new head of state include former prime ministers Romano Prodi and Giuliano Amato, as well as economy minister Pier Carlo Padoan, defense minister Roberta Pinotti and former Rome mayor Walter Veltroni.

European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi on Wednesday rejected speculation that he had his eye on the job. While the post of president is largely ceremonial, it takes on vital importance during times of political crisis when the president can help steer the formation of a new government.

The election carries political risks for Renzi, whose government was ushered into power last year with Napolitano’s blessing. The successful candidate must win the votes of two-thirds of lawmakers in both houses of parliament -- and Renzi will need to keep the more rebellious wing of his party in line to ensure he gets his man.

The 40-year old will want a candidate who can help bridge political differences which otherwise threaten to scupper the PM’s ambitious reform program. Renzi also needs someone willing to dissolve parliament and call snap elections, if as experts say has not ruled out another poll as a last resort to push through his reforms.