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Italians Elect Cossiga, 56, as 8th President

Associated Press

Italian legislators, in a rare display of unanimity, elected Christian Democrat Francesco Cossiga on the first ballot Monday as the nation’s eighth president.

Cossiga 56, is the youngest person ever to hold the largely ceremonial post. The only other person to win the position on the first ballot was Enrico De Nicola in 1946. Cossiga is president of the Senate and was prime minister in two of the 44 governments Italy has had since World War II. He received well over the required two-thirds majority--752 of the 977 votes cast in secret balloting.

Eligible to vote were Italy’s 1,011 “great electors"--members of the Senate, Chamber of Deputies and representatives from the country’s 20 regions.

Cossiga will be sworn in for a seven-year term July 9, succeeding Sandro Pertini, an 88-year-old Socialist who said he did not want to serve again. Pertini was chosen on the 16th ballot after 10 days of voting in 1978.

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The victory gives the Christian Democrats, Italy’s largest party, one of the nation’s two highest offices after nearly two years when both the president and the prime minister, Bettino Craxi, were Socialists. The Christian Democrats are the major partner in Craxi’s coalition government.

Political analysts have said that Craxi’s Socialists, who hold crucial swing votes as the third-largest party, decided to back Cossiga in return for continued Christian Democrat support of Craxi’s government. His two-year-old administration is one of the longest-running since the war.

Cossiga’s election was guaranteed earlier Monday when the Communist Party, Italy’s second largest, announced its support. He also had the backing of the other coalition partners--Republicans, Liberals and Social Democrats.

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The new president has won respect across party lines for personal integrity and honesty. Italian newspapers call him “Mr. Clean.”

Real executive power rests with the prime minister and Cabinet. The president has the right to name a prime minister and dissolve Parliament, and performs ceremonial functions.


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