Italy’s 89-year-old President Georgio Napolitano has used his New Year address to confirm he is to resign soon.
He is expected to retire in January when Italy hand overs the rotating European Union presidency.
“I am going to step down from my position as President of the Republic and head of state as allowed by the constitution,” he said.
“I wish to explain that I have reached this decision in the light of my advanced age and the increasing difficulties I face in trying to carry out my constitutional responsibilities.”
“These are complex and highly challenging, especially as a representative of the Republic on the international stage,” said the president during a televised statement.
The role of president holds loosely defined powers including the ability to veto legislation.
The departure presents Prime MInister Matteo Renzi with a challenge: if he cannot find an acceptable replacement, doubts will be raised over his ability to push through promised economic reforms.
Electing a president involves about 1,000 voters: members of parliament and representatives from the regions.
It allows for multiple rounds of voting to be secret ballots, offering ample opportunities for revenge to the many party enemies Renzi has made during his few months in charge.
Months of speculation about potential successors have thrown up names ranging from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi to current Economic Minister Pier Carlo Padoan or Defence Minister Roberta Ponti.