Singapore President Tony Tan congratulates newly minted President of Italy

Italy's new President Sergio Mattarella inspects a guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony at the Quirinale presidential palace in Rome, Feb 3, 2015. President Tony Tan Keng Yam has sent a congratulatory letter to Mr Sergio Mattarella who was swo
Italy's new President Sergio Mattarella inspects a guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony at the Quirinale presidential palace in Rome, Feb 3, 2015. President Tony Tan Keng Yam has sent a congratulatory letter to Mr Sergio Mattarella who was sworn in as the new President of Italy on Tuesday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE President Tony Tan Keng Yam has sent a congratulatory letter to Mr Sergio Mattarella who was sworn in as the new President of Italy on Tuesday.

"This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries.

"I look forward to working with you in taking our bilateral relations to greater heights for the mutual benefit of our two peoples," Dr Tan wrote, underlining the expanding bilateral cooperation and exchanges between the two partners in sectors, such as education and scientific research.

Mr Sergio Mattarella, a Sicilian constitutional court judge closely associated with the fight against organised crime, was elected by lawmakers last Saturday to succeed Mr Giorgio Napolitano, who stood down two years into his second term citing fatigue at the age of 89.

Mr Mattarella, 73, is Italy's 12th president since the country became a Republic after World War II.

His election has been seen as a political coup for Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

The youthful, centre-left prime minister had backed Mr Mattarella despite opposition from opposition leader and former premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr Renzi's candidate comfortably carried the vote with 665 of the votes cast in a 1,009-member electoral college.

The new president was until now little known to ordinary Italians. But the white-haired former academic has long been a respected figure in political circles after a 25-year parliamentary career and several stints as a minister in governments of the left and right.

He entered politics after his elder brother, who was president of the region of Sicily, was murdered by the Mafia in 1980.

Mr Mattarella is also seen as a foe of Berlusconi, having once resigned from government over a media law he and other ministers regarded as overly favourable to the tycoon's television interests.

The new president is now a member of Mr Renzi's Democratic Party (PD) having started his career as a Christian Democrat.

The presidency in Italy is a largely ceremonial role but the holder of the office can play a significant role at times of political crises, which have been a regular feature of Italian life for the last half century.

With additional reporting by AFP