Next week the Italian parliament will undergo one of its more colourful – and honourable – rituals: the election of a new President of the Republic. All good pieces of theatre depend on timing, and the timing of this one is tricky, for Italy and the world.

A college of “Grand Electors” will meet at the Palazzo Montecitorio, the Lower House of parliament. These number all eligible parliamentarians, Senators and Deputies, plus 80 or so special nominees from Italy’s regions. The voting is by secret ballot, with names of candidates written on the voting papers. A majority of 673, two thirds, can win on the first three ballots. Then it takes a simple majority of 505 to be elected. At each round the weaker candidates drop out.

It is a ritual full of ceremony, and fun, for a job of great prestige but very little hands-on power. So why the fuss this time?