AFTER 15 unsuccessful votes, Italy's parliamentarians finally agreed May 25 on a president.
He is Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, a former education minister and conservative politician widely respected outside his Christian Democratic Party for his integrity.
Mr. Scalfaro, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, was elected with the help of the Christian Democrats, the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS), the Socialists, the Social Democrats, the Liberals, the Greens, and two other small parties.
"He's a very esteemed and respected person," says a spokesman for the small Liberal Party.
The election of Scalfaro is a first step toward resolving Italy's political crisis. But it will be weeks before the country has a new government. Scalfaro's first task will be to consult with the leaders of Italy's various political parties and then nominate the country's prime minister.
The prime minister will begin his own consultations with political leaders and will choose the parties that will make up the new coalition government.
Significantly, the small Republican Party, which wants a government of "experts" (as opposed to political appointees), opposed the election of Scalfaro.
"To vote for Scalfaro means to vote to keep that system which [PDS leader Achille] Ochetto promised in the electoral campaign he would fight against," Republican leader Giorgio La Malfa told the Italian press. "I think he'll have a difficult time explaining this choice to his constituents."
THE presidential election was given a decisive push by outrage over the May 23 assassination in Palermo of Giuseppe Falcone, a Sicilian magistrate known for his courage and diligence in prosecuting Mafia figures. In 1987, Falcone succeeded in sentencing 338 gangsters to long prison terms, in the largest judicial attack ever on La Cosa Nostra.