On Tuesday, the chief of the lower house of parliament ruled that the Italian parliament will meet on January 24 to begin voting for a new head of state to replace outgoing Sergio Mattarella.

The election of a new president of the republic might have significant repercussions for Prime Minister Mario Draghi's cabinet, which is currently battling to contain a wave of COVID-19 cases.

Draghi has stated his desire to become president, thereby ending his 11-month old government and causing the country to choose between appointing a new premier or holding new elections a year ahead of schedule.

There is no guarantee, however, that the 74-year-old former European Central Bank chief will be appointed. The 85-year-old four-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is the first choice of Italy's centre-right parties. 

Berlusconi, Beppi and the Gordian Knot of Italy's Electoral Reform - AIIA -  Australian Institute of International Affairs

Former lower house speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini, former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, and current Justice Minister Marta Cartabia are among those who are thought to have a chance of becoming the new head of state.

The president, who is elected for a seven-year term, usually serves mostly as a ceremonial figure, but has broad powers after elections or when a government falls. He has the final decision when nominating the prime minister and other cabinet members.

The election, which takes place by secret ballot among over 1,000 parliamentarians and regional representatives, is an unpredictable process that can take several days.

A two-thirds majority is required to elect a president in the first three rounds of voting. The threshold is decreased to an absolute majority after the fourth vote, which is more than half of those who voted.