* President open to holding national elections a month early
* But says parliament must pass key legislation first
* Appears to offer compromise to parties on election date
(Adds background, details, more quotes from statement)
By Philip Pullella
ROME, Nov 16 Italy's president indicated on
Friday that he was open to holding national elections on March
10 - a month earlier than foreseen - if parliament passes key
Markets have been awaiting a signal on when the elections
might be because of their desire that the next government
continue economic reforms to overcome the debt crisis started by
Prime Minister Mario Monti's year-old technocrat administration.
The elections in the euro zone's third-largest economy are
due in spring after the end of parliament's five-year term and
the date of the vote had been widely expected to be in early
April, with April 7 the most touted date until now.
After meeting the speakers of parliament, President Giorgio
Napolitano issued a statement saying he believed that elections
for local governments in three Italian regions - Lazio, Molise
and Lombardy - should be held on March 10.
But he also said Italians should be spared "a frantic
succession of elections" if possible, indicating that the
national vote could be held on the same date.
Angelino Alfano, the secretary of the centre-right People of
Freedom Party (PDL), which has been calling for both elections
to be held on one day, said he saw Napolitano's statement as a
sign that national elections would be held on March 10.
Napolitano, who is the only person who can dissolve
parliament and call early elections, said he wanted parliament
to pass the 2013 budget before he makes his definitive decision.
The president also re-stated his hope that parliament could
approve changes to Italy's convoluted election law before the
end of the legislature.
The law, known as "the pigsty" because it is so messy,
enables party leaders to handpick members of parliament and
guarantees a strong majority to the winning coalition, however
small their share of the vote.
CORRUPTION IN THE REGIONS
There had been uncertainty over the date of the regional
polls, particularly for Lombardy and Lazio, two regions where
centre-right governments were driven out by corruption scandals.
The PDL - the party of former Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi - fears it will do badly in both Lombardy and Lazio
because of the scandals and some PDL leaders are concerned that
could have a knock-on effect on the national vote if the two are
held separately - and want both held on the same day.
Some in the party have suggested the PDL should withdraw
support for Monti's government if the local polls were held
first, bringing down the government and forcing an election
By indicating he was open to national elections a mere month
early under certain conditions, Napolitano appeared to be
proposing a compromise between the centre right and centre left.
The PDL, which backs Monti in parliament under a cross-party
agreement with the centre-left Democratic Party, is trailing in
the opinion polls is not expected to form the next government.
Both the PDL and the PD will be holding primaries to choose
their candidates for prime minister. The PDL is expected to
choose its secretary, Alfano, and the PD is expected to choose
its secretary, Pierluigi Bersani.
Berlusconi, who is on trial accused of paying for sex with a
minor, has said he will not be a candidate.
Last month a Milan court convicted Berlusconi of tax fraud
related to his Mediaset television company and handed
down a four-year sentence that he will not have to serve until
all appeals are exhausted.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella and Naomi O'Leary; Editing by