President Giorgio Napolitano is considering appointing a new technocrat government led by a non-politician as one way out of Italy's political stalemate, Italian officials said yesterday (5 March).
Such a solution would come into play if centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani failed to form a government after receiving an initial mandate from Napolitano, as is expected, they said.
"Napolitano wants a government with the broadest possible support that will last as long as possible," one of the officials told Reuters.
Bersani won a majority in the lower house of parliament and says he has the right to be the first to try to form a government, although he has no workable majority in the Senate.
However, Five Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo, who holds the balance of power after winning a huge protest vote, responded to speculation about a technocrat government in Italian media on Tuesday by saying he would not support such an administration.
"Technocrat governments don't exist in nature but only political governments supported by parliamentary majorities. The Monti government was the most political government since the war," Grillo said on his blog.
He said a technocrat premier would just be a "fig leaf" to cover the responsibilities of the traditional parties.
The stalemate has caused alarm among Italy's European partners because of concern that instability could reignite the financial crisis that brought the euro zone to the brink of collapse before former EU commissioner Mario Monti formed a government of technocrats in November 2011.
Napolitano is charged with finding a way out of the impasse but does not begin formal consultations until after 15 March, when parliament will be convened, for constitutional reasons.
Politicians have used the limbo period between last week's vote and talks with Napolitano for both speculation and manoeuvring.
Napolitano encouraged political forces to use the time more constructively on Tuesday, saying in a statement they had "ample time for a fruitful preparatory phase for the head of state's consultations for the formation of a government".
With no party able to control the upper house, the options for putting together a government depend on an agreement between at least two of the three main rival forces in parliament – Bersani's centre-left, the centre-right bloc led by Silvio Berlusconi and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
Grillo has expressed repeated hostility to overtures from Bersani and appears unlikely to support a government led by him.
Grillo spent much of the election campaign making fierce attacks on Monti's unelected government.
Monti remains in charge of day-to-day government business until a new government is formed, but cannot introduce any major legislation.
His own involvement in the election, in which he led a centrist grouping that won just over 10% of the vote, is thought to have ruled him out for another term as a non-partisan head of government.
Monti invited the heads of the three main blocs to meetings to discuss next week's European Council meeting in Brussels, the first opportunity for the main party chiefs to meet since the election.
The leadership of Bersani's Democratic Party (PD) is due to meet separately on Wednesday to discuss its next steps and to approve a core programme of reforms in areas including corruption and party finance, which he has said he will present to parliament.
He has ruled out an alliance with Berlusconi and has called on Grillo's party, the third most powerful force in parliament with 163 members in the two houses, to back his proposals.
PD ally Nichi Vendola, leader of the Freedom Ecology Liberty party, said on Tuesday after a meeting of party managers that he opposed another technocrat government.
"We want a government for change, a government of anti-technocrats," Vendola told reporters.