Italian lawmakers are gathering to vote on a new president whose first job will be to seek the formation of a new government after inconclusive elections.

Political parties sparred over suitable candidates for the post being vacated by Giorgio Napolitano ahead of the Thursday vote, reflecting divisions that they have been unable to overcome in the more than 50 days since the Feb. 24-25 elections. Napolitano's term expires next month.

Though largely ceremonial, the job of president can be critical in holding parties to account during moments of strife, like that now facing Italy.

The movement founded by comedian-turned-political leader Beppe Grillo has chosen as its candidate a constitutional expert. The main parties — minus a splinter group in the center-left — were backing a former Senate president.