The Italian president prepared to meet 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 having to hold a new election.
President Giorgio Napolitano might ask Prodi or another leader from his coalition to form a new center-left government. He could also ask an institutional figure above the political fray to form a government, possibly with broad support from both coalitions.
Or he could call early elections. Many observers say that Napolitano would be unlikely to call early elections since they would be far ahead of their 2011 schedule and would be held with the current electoral law, which many political forces want to reform before a new vote.
The premier's aides did not rule out the possibility that Napolitano would ask Prodi to form a new government, and from first discussions among some allies, support for another Prodi government seemed to be building.
But with a Senate he cannot fully control and a diverse coalition, any new Prodi government supported by the same forces would be dogged by instability.
To avert the risk, some center-left party leaders were looking to centrist lawmakers who have left the conservative bloc led by former Premier Silvio Berlusconi.
On Wednesday, the government lost a motion in the Senate supporting the government's foreign policy, including maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan, by just two votes.
The vote was not binding, but it signaled that Prodi did not muster command of the upper chamber on key policies, leading the premier to resign.