Italy's premier-designate begins talks to form government

( dpa ) - Franco Marini, the man tasked by Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano to form a government aimed at changing the country's electoral law was scheduled later Thursday to begin talks with political leaders to win their support.

Napolitano appointed Marini, Speaker of Parliament's upper house, the Senate, in an attempt to resolve a government crisis triggered by Romano Prodi's resignation as premier a week ago.

Napolitano who has the power to dissolve Parliament and set new elections, motivated his choice of Marini saying he first wanted to "examine the possibility" of reforming Italy's electoral law which has been blamed by many for leaving the country with unstable governments.

The country's main industrialist lobby, Confindustria, the Catholic Bishop's Conference and the main labour unions had all signalled their belief that Italy needs a new electoral law.

But the 74-year-old Marini, a former leader of Italy's main Catholic labour union CISL, faces a tough task given that most of the centre-right opposition which had requested a snap election has said it won't support him.

"We will tell Marini we don't agree in the necessity of changing this electoral law and that we are against wasting time," Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the largest opposition party, Forza Italia, said on Thursday reiterating his demand for early elections.

Berlusconi's stance against a new government and in favour of a fresh poll is backed by most of the opposition, which following the centre-left government's decisive defeat in the Senate last week, is now believed to have a majority in Parliament's upper house.

Also, while most of the centre-left - which is trailing in opinion polls - is expected to support Marini's efforts, some of the smaller members of the coalition including the Party of Italian Communists, have indicated they also want a snap vote.

Italy's current electoral system - introduced just before the April 2006 elections by the centre-right government of Berlusconi who was then premier - favours small parties often giving them power to dictate terms and, through defections, toppling ruling coalitions.

Prodi's government - Italy's 62nd since World War II - an unwieldy coalition of nine-parties ranging from moderate Catholics to diehard Communists, saw its already slim majority in the Senate vanish completely through defections.

Marini who has a reputation as a tough but persuasive negotiator may still be able to canvass enough support to present a government able to win Parliament's approval.

On Thursday some events seemed to come to his aid when two senior members of the conservative Christian Democrat UDC party said they were resigning to form their a new centrist grouping. Both have indicated they may back Marini.

While no time-table has been announced, Marini is expected to wrap-up his meetings by early next week and report back to Napolitano to announce whether he believes he has the numbers in Parliament to form a cabinet.

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