ROME 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 on Tuesday.
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, 5-Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo, who holds the whip hand 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," he 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 March 15, when parliament will be convened, for constitutional reasons.
Politicians have used the limbo period between last week's vote and the talks with Napolitano for both speculation and manoeuvring.
Napolitano encouraged political forces to use the time more constructively on Tuesday, noting in a statement that 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 5-Star Movement.
Grillo has expressed repeated hostility to overtures from Bersani and appears unlikely to support a government led by him.
On Monday, Vito Crimi, newly appointed leader of the 5-Star Movement in the Senate, said his group would not give a confidence vote to any government led by one of the main parties but could back an administration "alternative to the party system".
However, on Tuesday he said his remarks had been misinterpreted and the movement would not support a technocrat government. He said the 5-Star Movement's aim was to lead a government itself.
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 percent 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.
However, Bersani's own position has been badly weakened by the election, which the PD had been clear favourite to win, and speculation has grown that he may be replaced, possibly by the 37-year-old mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi.
Renzi met Monti on Tuesday for two hours in his office in Rome. Afterwards, the mayor said the two discussed freeing up city funds that have been blocked by internal budget controls.
On Monday, finance ministers from the 17-member currency bloc meeting in Brussels said they were optimistic that whatever government was formed in Italy would show responsibility.
(Editing by Barry Moody and Tom Pfeiffer)