The left-right stand-off in Italian politics that has torn the country in two enters a new phase on Monday.
Parliamentary and regional representatives will begin to vote on a successor to President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.
Although the presidency is largely a ceremonial role, the choice of candidate to replace Ciampi has added importance because Romano Prodi cannot form a new government without a presidential mandate.
Prodi’s choice for president is Massimo D’Alema, the chairman of the Democrats of the Left, Italy’s former Communist Party and the biggest party in the new ruling coalition.
D’Alema is rejected outright by Silvio Berlusconi, who is proposing his close aide Gianni Letta.
The outgoing prime minister threatens head-on stonewalling including non-payment of taxes if his coalition is not represented.
He said D’Alema’s appointment would be a threat to democracy. “I consider the nomination of a left-wing politician for the presidency as an indecent proposal, almost a democratic emergency.”
In the voting in the Italian parliament, a two-thirds majority is required in the first three rounds, a simple majority after that.
The show could run and run – it took 13 days to elect Ciampi’s predecessor in 1992.