The Italian president began talks with political leaders Thursday to discuss the formation of a new government after the resignation of Premier Romano Prodi's nine-month-old administration.
Prodi stepped down Wednesday evening after an embarrassing parliamentary defeat of his government's proposed foreign policy program, including its plan to keep Italian troops in Afghanistan. He is staying on in a caretaker role.
The consultations at the presidential palace are aimed at determining which political leaders, if any, might be able to muster enough support for a parliamentary majority and thus avoid a new election.
President Giorgio Napolitano might ask Prodi or another leader from his coalition to form a new center-left government. He also could ask an institutional figure above the political fray to form a government, possibly with broad support from both coalitions, or he could call elections.
The president started by meeting with Senate speaker Franco Marini, who is considered a possible leader for an institutional government. The speaker of the lower house of parliament, party leaders and former presidents were to follow in the talks, expected to continue through Friday.
Many observers say that Napolitano would be unlikely to call elections so far ahead of the next scheduled vote in 2011. Many political leaders also want to change the current proportional representation system that is seen as encouraging small parties and leading to instability.