Italy's parliament begins voting on Monday for a new head of state with a seven-year mandate.
In a process that could take several days, more than 1,000 parliamentarians and regional representatives will convene for the first round of secret voting to replace the outgoing President Sergio Mattarella, who is eligible for re-election but has ruled out a second term.
In the first three rounds of voting, the winner must secure at least a two-thirds majority. From the fourth round, an absolute majority is enough.
Anyone with Italian citizenship who is 50 or older is eligible, and with no formal candidate list, the result is hard to predict.
The head of state is responsible for resolving political crises, making it a key role in a country where governments survive just one year on average. The president has the final say in nominating prime ministers and other cabinet members.
There are concerns among politicians in Italy that the result could trigger fresh political uncertainty in the euro zone's third-largest economy, which is facing a resurgence of COVID-19 infections and deaths.
In a wide-open contest that will be closely monitored by financial markets, Prime Minister Mario Draghi is among the most prominent candidates.
Draghi, who leads a national unity administration, has made clear he would like the job, which has a 7-year term. But there is a reluctance among some parties to back him for fear his departure could trigger political turmoil and an early election.
"At this difficult moment, it would be dangerous to remove Draghi from the post of prime minister," rightist League leader Matteo Salvini said on Sunday, echoing similar remarks made by his coalition partner Silvio Berlusconi.