ROME (AP) -- Italian lawmakers failed on Thursday to elect a new president of the nation during a first round of voting.
President Giorgio Napolitano's term ends next month, and choosing his successor is considered a step toward resolving a political impasse that has blocked the formation of a new Italian government for nearly two months.
While the presidency is mostly ceremonial, the post has the power to dissolve Parliament and call a new national election.
Italian presidents, often widely respected and aimed at being above the political fray, can help foster national unity, which is now vital as politicians squabble over how to rebuild Italy's recession-mired economy.
During Thursday's vote by both houses of Parliament and regional electors, Franco Marini, a long-time union leader and former Senate president, finished first, but he fell 151 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed during the first three rounds.
A second round of voting will be held later Thursday.
Political parties have sparred for weeks over suitable candidates to succeed Napolitano, but center-left leader Pier Luigi Biryani and center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi had reportedly reached agreement over Marini's candidacy.
However Bersani's party is largely split.
Meanwhile, the third largest force in Parliament — the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement led by comic Beppe Grillo — was pushing for another presidential candidate, a constitutional law expert. Grillo's candidate, Stefano Rodota, finished second in the first round of voting.
If a fourth round of voting is required in the coming days, a new president could be elected with a simple majority.
The bickering over the presidency reflects the divisions that lawmakers have been unable to overcome since Italy's Feb. 24-25 national election, which saw the center-left win control of the lower Chamber of Deputies, but not the Senate.
Bersani has repeatedly rebuffed an offer from media mogul Berlusconi to form a "grand coalition" government in a bid to stave off a new national election.
The new president will sound out political leaders to see who commands enough votes in Parliament to try to form the new government, a process that could take weeks.
Napolitano earlier asked Bersani to see if he could secure the necessary support, but Bersani came up short.