ROME (AP) - Italy's Parliament on Saturday re-elected Giorgio Napolitano as the nation's president to an unprecedented second term after party leaders persuaded the aging 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 Napolitano easily surpassed the simple majority required to be elected Saturday afternoon. He garnered 738 votes, far more than the 504 needed for victory for another seven-year mandate.
Parliament had a much harder time. It took it three days of balloting to choose a president, reflecting the legislature's deep polarization following inconclusive nationwide elections in February.
After the weeks of stalemate, once he takes a new oath of office Monday, 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.
That won't be easy. Italy's main political parties - essentially three distinct ideological blocs in Parliament and their often shifting allies - are heavily polarized, and the antagonism only grew sharper during the frustrating gridlock this year.
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.