Italy was headed for a third parliamentary vote for president on Friday after the center-left united behind ex-premier Romano Prodi. He faced rejection from conservatives led by his arch rival, Silvio Berlusconi.
Prodi's nomination represented a stark turnaround for the center-left's leader Pier Luigi Bersani. He failed on Thursday during a second round to amass a necessary two-third majority for former Senate speaker and trade unionist Franco Marini.
Electing a new Italian president to succeed Giorgio Napolitano is widely seen as crucial to ending a political deadlock that has crippled the eurozone's third-largest economy since inconclusive parliamentary elections in February.
Prodi, 73, (pictured above) is currently serving as United Nations envoy for the Sahel region in Africa.
Bersani faced revolt
Marini was initially given joint backing by Bersani and Berlusconi but it soon became clear on Thursday that many leftist lawmakers, including those in Bersani's Democratic Party (PD), had rebelled against their own leadership. Center-left electors cast blank ballots.
Prodi, who headed the European Commission between 1999 and 2004, beat Berlusconi in two past Italian elections, becoming the media magnate's nemesis. Last week, Berlusconi even threatened to leave Italy if Prodi was made president.
Five Star sticks to own candidate
To win a third round, Prodi would also need the support of the protest Five Star Movements as well as centrists led by outgoing technocrat premier Mario Monti and the PD's leftist ally, the Left Freedom and Ecology Party.
The anti-establishment Five Star said Friday it would continue to support its candidate Stefano Rodota, a human rights advocate and academic.
Political columnist Francesco Marchiano describes Italy's presidential election hiatus as "one of the ugliest elections we have ever had."
"It is taking place in a country essentially without a government, with parties unable to agree on anything," Marchiano said.
Joint sitting of parliament
Napolitano's 7-year term expires next month. If the presidential selection process remains inconclusive, Italy could be forced into another general election.
The president is elected by a joint sitting of Italy's two houses of parliament joined by 58 regional delegates.
In the first three rounds a presidential nominee needs a two-thirds majority among the some 1,000 electors. Beyond that, only a simple majority is needed in subsequent rounds.
ipj/kms (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AFP)