Italy elects senior judge Sergio Mattarella as president

An undated picture made available on Jan 29, 2015 of Sergio Mattarella (left) at an undisclosed location. Italian lawmakers elected Sergio Mattarella, a constitutional court judge and veteran centre-left politician, as president on Saturday, handing
An undated picture made available on Jan 29, 2015 of Sergio Mattarella (left) at an undisclosed location. Italian lawmakers elected Sergio Mattarella, a constitutional court judge and veteran centre-left politician, as president on Saturday, handing a welcome political victory to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. -- PHOTO: EPA 

ROME (REUTERS) - Italian lawmakers elected Sergio Mattarella, a constitutional court judge and veteran centre-left politician, as president on Saturday, handing a welcome political victory to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

After three inconclusive rounds of voting this week in which a two-thirds majority was needed, Renzi’s candidate Mattarella was elected in the fourth round, when the required quorum fell to a simple majority.

As the ballots were counted out loud in the Chamber of Deputies, the 1,009 parliamentarians and regional officials eligible to vote burst into applause when Mattarella’s name surpassed the 505-vote threshold needed, making him Italy’s 12th president since World War II.

Though the count has not been finalised, Mattarella, who is little known to most Italians, drew broad parliamentary support, garnering more than 650 votes. Mattarella is expected to be sworn in next week for a seven-year term, taking over officially for the 89-year-old Giorgio Napolitano, who resigned earlier this month.

The election shows the 40-year-old Renzi in firm control of both his famously fractious party and his majority as he seeks to pass reforms aimed at underpinning an economic recovery in Italy, where unemployment is soaring after six years of on-off recession. But it puts into jeopardy a pact with centre-right rival Silvio Berlusconi to make electoral and constitutional reforms.

The Italian president is a largely ceremonial figure, but he wields important powers at times of political instability, a frequent scourge in Italy, when he or she can dissolve parliament, call elections and pick prime ministers.

The 73-year-old Mattarella, a native of Sicily, has a reputation for being a reserved but straight-talking former minister, whose career in politics began after his brother, Piersanti, was shot dead by the Sicilian Mafia in 1980.