ROME The leader of Italy's biggest center-left party Wednesday urged all opponents of Silvio Berlusconi to form a common front against the prime minister if the break-up of the ruling coalition leads to early elections.
Last month's dramatic split between Berlusconi and his former long-time ally Gianfranco Fini has raised the prospect of a snap election as Berlusconi's center right no longer has a guaranteed parliamentary majority.
The weak and disunited center left has struggled to capitalize on Berlusconi's woes, with many commentators saying it is reluctant to go to the polls because it fears Berlusconi would win.
"If the break-up ... led to a situation where elections become inevitable, we would go to the forces of the center left and the opposition to build a common strategy," said Pierluigi Bersani, leader of the Democratic Party (PD).
Bersani did not specify who might be included in such a strategy, but his comments appeared to leave the door open for centrist parties and Fini's breakaway group.
Analysts say an anti-Berlusconi electoral alliance ranging from leftists to Fini's conservatives would find it hard to hold together and convince voters.
Berlusconi is set to call a confidence vote in September on a four-point platform and his camp says he will resign if he does not get enough parliamentary backing.
With parliament closed for the summer recess, the political debate has been dominated by increasingly acrimonious exchanges between Berlusconi's and Fini's supporters, leaving little room for a compromise.
Berlusconi's camp wants Fini, who was expelled from the People of Freedom party he co-founded with the premier, to resign as lower house speaker over an allegedly dubious real estate deal involving a Monte Carlo flat bequeathed to his former party.
Fini, who has angered Berlusconi's supporters by hammering away at the themes of legality and morality in recent months, has denied any wrongdoing.
If a government resigns, it is up to the president to dissolve parliament and call new elections. But the constitution requires him first to try to identify a new majority that could support an interim government until elections due in 2013.
Berlusconi is said to favor a snap election that most commentators say he would likely win. Tuesday, the leader of his main coalition partner, the Northern League, said Italy was in a "quagmire" and the best option was to go back to the ballot box as soon as possible.
(Editing by Myra MacDonald)