Italy's Parliament has re-elected Giorgio Napolitano as the nation's president to an unprecedented second term after party leaders persuaded the ageing head of state to serve again in hopes of easing the hostile political climate that is delaying the formation of a new government for the economically stagnant eurozone member.
The 87-year-old easily surpassed the simple majority required to be elected on Saturday afternoon. He garnered 738 votes, far more than the 504 needed for victory for another seven-year mandate.
It took it three days of balloting to choose a president, reflecting the legislature's deep polarisation following inconclusive nationwide elections in February.
After the weeks of stalemate, once he takes a new oath of office Monday, Mr Napolitano can formally begin one of the head of state's most important tasks - figuring out who has the most solid prospects of putting together a new government with enough support to successfully work with Parliament and, crucially, survive a mandatory vote of confidence from lawmakers.
Italy's main political parties - essentially three distinct ideological blocs in Parliament and their often shifting allies - are heavily polarised and the antagonism only grew sharper during the frustrating gridlock this year.
Mr Napolitano, a former Communist, will have to quickly start sounding out parties about a potential premier. The next government faces pressure to bring urgently needed economic and electoral reforms to the recession-mired eurozone nation plagued by political volatility.
Italy has had a caretaker government for months, led by economist Mario Monti, a Napolitano appointee whose harsh austerity measures of higher taxes, pension reform and slashed spending helped keep Italy from succumbing to the debt crisis.
Mr Napolitano, citing his advanced age, had repeatedly refused to be a candidate for another term that would see him turn nearly 95 when it runs out. But he said he "cannot help but take on the responsibility toward the nation".
Mr Monti, whose own election bid to stay on as premier was soundly rejected by angry voters, telephoned Mr Napolitano to thank him for having agreed "with great spirit of sacrifice" to continue in the office "in this difficult phase of national life".
From Brussels, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a congratulatory note that Mr Napolitano will serve at a time when European Union nations must "display great calmness, courage and farsightedness" amid calls from Europe's citizens for restored growth and jobs.