Franco Marini, the speaker of the Italian senate, who was asked by the president of the republic, Giorgio Napolitano, to try to form a government, has resigned his mandate on the grounds that he has been unable to find a consensus among the political parties. He had been asked by the president to try to put together a coalition to steer electoral reform through parliament before new elections are called.

The president will now decide when to dissolve parliament and when to hold general elections, which could take place as early as 30 March or as late as 13 April.

The current electoral law, passed by Silvio Berlusconi during his last months as prime minister in 2005, favours smaller parties and makes it difficult to have a clear majority in the senate. Italy