ROME Industry Minister Carlo Calenda said on Wednesday that Italy had plenty of work to do before it could hold an election, making clear his opposition to an early vote in the autumn of this year.
Speaking at the assembly of employers' lobby Confindustria, Calenda said that before elections the country needed to draw up new voting rules, pass a 2018 budget and recapitalise its ailing banks.
"We have to arrive at elections at the right time ... with an electoral law that gives, if not the certainty, at least a reasonable probability that a government can be formed afterwards," Calenda said.
Elections are due by May 2018, but there has been frequent speculation that they could be held in the autumn of this year.
Calenda, a technocrat with no party affiliation, insisted the needs of the economy should not be relegated below the interests of political parties.
The budget must be presented by mid-October and approved by parliament by the end of the year, and Italy needs to make painful cuts to meet deficit targets agreed with the European Commission -- measures that might go down badly with voters.
President Sergio Mattarella, the only figure with the power to dissolve parliament, has said elections should only be held after parliament has passed a new electoral law to harmonise voting systems for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
At present, there is a system based on proportional representation for both houses of parliament, but in the Chamber there is a lower threshold of votes needed to elect representatives, and a winner's bonus of seats for any party that gets 40 percent of the vote.
After months of bickering, the parties have still not reached a deal over a new system and opinion polls suggest that no party or coalition would win a majority if a vote were held under current rules.
Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, head of the ruling Democratic Party (PD), said on Monday he would try to negotiate with other parliamentary factions to reach a deal to discuss at a PD executive meeting on May 30.
However, prospects for an accord still look slim.
Recent polls suggest the PD is backed by around 30 percent of voters, roughly level with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the right-wing Northern League each have around 12 percent.
(Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte, Writing by Gavin Jones, Editing by Crispian Balmer)