Italy's president began sounding out political leaders Sunday on whether to ask economist Mario Monti to try to form a government, a day after Silvio Berlusconi resigned with the nation on the brink of financial disaster.
Giorgio Napolitano was holding back-to-back meetings as he seeks to establish whether Monti, the highly respected former European Union competition commissioner, or another contender can garner enough support to form a government and rescue Italy from looming economic doom.
Monti was his typical polite and reserved self when journalists spotted him and his wife leaving their Rome hotel to head to church.
Asked whether he was excited at the prospect of being Italy's next premier, he responded: "Have you noticed what a beautiful day it is?"
Napolitano, who is head of state, received Senate President Renato Schifani at the presidential palace. Gianfranco Fini, a former Berlusconi ally who leads the lower Chamber of Deputies, immediately followed. Then the leaders of the smaller parties in Parliament started having their turns, with the bigger parties — including Berlusconi's splintering conservatives — scheduled to meet with the president in late afternoon and early evening.
Napolitano might be able to tap Monti by evening if enough backing is secured by his consultations. But some of Berlusconi's supporters and allies have balked at the prospects of a government led by Monti.
Pressured by day after day of poundings by the markets, which lost faith in the once charismatic leader, Berlusconi resigned Saturday night as promised, as soon as urgent anti-crisis measures won final approval in Parliament.
Berlusconi's main coalition ally in 17 years of political dominance in Italy is the Northern League, which has made clear it wants early elections and won't back Monti. Several leaders in Berlusconi's own conservative party have openly said they either want the outgoing premier's political heir, Angelino Alfano, or some Italian veteran politician like former premier Lamberto Dini.
Most centrists and center-left parties in the opposition have pledged their support for a Monti government, saying he has the moral authority and economic know-how to implement the measures and finally start Italy on a path of long-delayed structural reforms of its flat economy.
Napolitano unexpectedly propelled Monti into the political limelight when he named him senator-for-life last week, putting the economist suddenly in Parliament.
Italy faces severe pressure from the financial markets to have a government named by Monday morning when the work week resumes.