In an unprecedented development, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano was re-elected to the country’s highest office on Saturday after Italy’s electoral college failed to elect his successor in five rounds of voting. This is the first time in the history of the Italian Republic that a President has been elected to two successive terms. He needed 504 votes of the 1007 grand electors, or 51.5 per cent, to win. The quorum was reached early morning after a day fraught with uncertainly.

Mr. Napolitano (87), perhaps the only universally respected politician in the country, allowed himself to be persuaded to re-run after a bitterly divided Parliament failed to elect his successor. Although the Italian presidency is a largely ceremonial office, it assumes a crucial role during times of political paralysis, since the President is the only person who has the power to dissolve Parliament.

Since elections in February, Italy’s parties have failed to cobble together a credible coalition and Mario Monti, pushed into the role of a “technocratic” Prime Minister, continues to head a caretaker government. Under the Italian Constitution a President cannot dissolve Parliament unless he has at least six months of his mandate left.

Mr. Napolitano’s current mandate comes to an end on May 15. It’s a Catch-22 situation. Without a presidential mandate, fresh elections cannot be held and without fresh elections, there is unlikely to be a stable government.

Mr. Napolitano agreed on Saturday to serve a second term following an impasse that lasted several days. Various party leaders called on him to re-run.

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