Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's former prime minister and leader of the centre-right People of Liberty party, has said he would run for premier again if a snap vote is called after centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani again rejected forming a government with his rival.
Speaking to thousands of supporters gathered in a central square in the southern city of Bari on Saturday, Berlusconi, the four-time premier, repeated that he was willing to join Bersani to form a right-left "grand coalition" government.
"Or there is an immediate government, strong and stable, or else the Italians should return to the ballot boxes and vote in
June," Berlusconi said.
"We are ready for another vote, and I will be present as leader of the People of Liberty (PDL) party and candidate for
prime minister," Berlusconi said to a roar from the crowd.
The February election left parliament split between three hostile blocs, none of which can govern alone, making an early
return to the polls a growing possibility.
But for constitutional reasons a new election cannot be called by President Giorgio Napolitano, and so it will be his
successor who will have another chance to find a solution that allows the formation of a government, or else dissolve
parliament and call new elections.
Voting to pick a new president starts on Thursday.
Berlusconi's centre right would win a snap vote by a hair, overturning February's result that gave the PD control of the
lower house, but not the Senate, an ISPO poll published in Saturday's Corriere della Sera newspaper showed.
In February's vote, PDL secretary Angelino Alfano was the party's premier candidate, with Berlusconi saying he would be
But his remarkable comeback during the campaign to nearly defeat the PD has again made him the
undisputed leader of his bloc.
Earlier on Saturday, speaking at a small theatre in an impoverished suburb of Rome, Bersani said he was willing to seek
a neutral candidate to be the next president because the constitution says he should be a figure of "national unity".
But he rejected forming a government with Berlusconi, saying: "A grand coalition is not the right response to the
problems of the country."