Giorgio Napolitano to stand again to heal rift

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WITH a divided Italian ­parliament unable to agree on a new president, incumbent Giorgio Napolitano, 87, yielded yesterday to pleas from political leaders to stand for a second term in office.

His decision will end an impasse which has frustrated efforts to form a government in recession-hit Italy.

Napolitano had repeatedly refused to be a candidate for an unprecedented second seven-year term, saying he was too old to continue. But yesterday he said in a statement, after lobbying from party leaders, that he “cannot help but take on the responsibility towards the nation”.

Whether he will win through in the latest round of voting in parliament will depend on whether political leaders can persuade their fractious parties to close ranks behind Napolitano’s candidacy.

Hours earlier, the Rome parliament held a fifth – and once again unsuccessful – vote to choose a head of state. But even as senators, deputies and regional electors put their folded paper ballots into urns in the Chamber of Deputies, leaders ranging from caretaker premier Mario Monti to former premier Silvio Berlusconi were visiting Napolitano, one by one, at the presidential Quirinal Palace to beg him to reconsider his refusal to serve again.

Napolitano and his wife reportedly had already started packing their belongings as his term draws to a close on 15 May. ­Napolitano would be a month shy of 95 at the end of a second term in 2020.

Napolitano’s office said the leaders had made a “fervent appeal to reconsider his oft-given reasons to be unwilling to have a second term”.

Monti, the economist Napolitano appointed in late 2011 to rescue Italy from the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis after financial markets lost faith in media mogul Berlusconi’s ability to lead Italy through tough times, as late as Friday night had been pushing his interior minister to stand for the presidency.

But “in the face of the evident difficulties some parties are running up against in deciding quickly on a shared solution”, Monti went to see Napolitano and “urged him strongly to accept another term in the higher interests of the country”, Monti’s office said in a statement.