President of the Republic

   Article 83 of the Italian Constitutionassigns the task of electing the president to an electoral college composed of the two chambers of Parliament and representatives from Italy’s regional governments. Atwo-thirds majority is necessary until the fourth round of balloting; thereafter, a simple majority is sufficient. The party leaders have the task of finding a nominee who will be supported by a broad coalition of electors—a task that is rendered all the more difficult by the fact that the ballot is secret and the influence of the party whips cannot be brought to bear. The negotiations often go on for weeks as the number of ballots grows without conclusion.
   The Italian president, chosen for a seven-year term, is more institutionally powerful than a German president but much less powerful than the president of France or the United States. He is the titular head of the High Council of the Judiciary (the executive committee of the legal profession) and has the right to nominate five members of the Constitutional Court. He can nominate senators for life. Most important, he formally nominates the president of the Council of Ministers (who must be approved by Parliament) and decides whether or not to resolve a government crisis by dissolving Parliament and calling an election. For most of the postwar period, these powers meant little beyond interviewing prospective presidents of the Council to encourage the parties to find a nominee acceptable to a majority of Parliament, but in recent years the president’s role as a crisis manager has propelled him to center stage. President Francesco Cossiga took an important public role during the political crises of the early 1990s, and Oscar Luigi Scalfaroplayed a decisive role in the establishment of the governments of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and, above all, of Lamberto Diniin the mid-1990s. As president, Ciampi acted as a brake on some of the more controversial policies proposed by Silvio Berlusconibetween 2001 and 2006.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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