ROME -- Italy's president asked the Senate speaker Wednesday to determine if an interim government can be formed to change the electoral law before early elections, an effort to end the country's political instability.
Conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi has rejected the idea of an interim government, demanding immediate elections following the collapse of Premier Romano Prodi's center-left government last week.
"I know well that this is not an easy enterprise -- in fact it's a hard one," Senate speaker Franco Marini said shortly after meeting with President Giorgio Napolitano.
But Marini said he would act quickly. Political talks were scheduled to start Thursday and last a few days.
If Marini succeeds, he would likely head the interim government. If he fails, the only apparent option would be an immediate general election just two years after the last one. The next scheduled date is 2011.
A centrist and a veteran of Italian politics, the 74-year-old Marini is a former leader of one of Italy's largest unions. As Senate speaker he holds the country's highest-ranking position.
Berlusconi, a former prime minister who is eager to return to power, criticized Napolitano's move, insisting prompt early elections were the only way out of the crisis.
"There is no room for dialogue on the electoral law," he said. "This country needs many things, but not to waste time."
Berlusconi already served as premier for five years, a record Italy's postwar history of revolving-door governments. Polls suggest he would win an early vote comfortably.
Gianfranco Fini of the right-wing National Alliance predicted Marini's push for an interim government would fail, while the Northern League announced that it would not even take part in the talks. Both are coalition partners of Berlusconi.