President Giorgio Napolitano is considering appointing a new technocrat government led by a non-politician as one way out of Italy's political stalemate, sources said on Tuesday.
Such a solution would come into play if center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani failed to form a government after receiving an initial mandate from Napolitano, as is expected, they said.
Bersani won a majority in the lower house of parliament and says he has the right to be the first to try to form a government, although he has no workable majority in the Senate.
However, 5-Star Movement leader Beppe Grillo, who holds the whip hand after winning a huge protest vote, responded to speculation about a technocrat government in Italian media on Tuesday by saying he would not support such an administration.
"Technocrat governments don't exist in nature but only political governments supported by parliamentary majorities. The Monti government was the most political government since the war," he said on his blog.
He said a technocrat premier would just be a "fig leaf" to cover the responsibilities of the traditional parties.
Napolitano is charged with finding a way out of the impasse but does not begin formal consultations until around March 15 for constitutional reasons, which encourages both speculation and maneuvering by politicians in the limbo before then.
With no party able to control the upper house, the options for forming a government depend on an agreement between at least two of the three main rival forces in parliament, Bersani's center-left, the center-right bloc led by Silvio Berlusconi and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.
Grillo has expressed repeated hostility to overtures from Bersani and is considered unlikely to support a government led by him.
On Monday, Vito Crimi, newly appointed leader of the 5-Star Movement in the Senate, said his group would not give a confidence vote to any government led by one of the main parties but could back an administration "alternative to the party system".
However, on Tuesday he said his remarks had been misinterpreted and the movement would not support a technocrat government. He said the 5-Star Movement's aim was to lead a government itself.
Grillo spent much of the election campaign making fierce attacks on Monti's unelected government, which Napolitano appointed at the height of the financial crisis in 2011.
Monti, the outgoing prime minister, invited the heads of the three main blocs to meetings to discuss next week's European Council meeting in Brussels, the first opportunity for the main party chiefs to meet since the election.
The leadership of Bersani's Democratic Party (PD) is due to meet on Wednesday to discuss its next steps and to approve a core program of reforms in areas including corruption and party finance, which he has said he will present to parliament.
He has ruled out an alliance with Berlusconi and has called on Grillo's party, the third most powerful force in parliament with 163 members in the two houses, to back his proposals.
However, Bersani's own position has been badly weakened by the election, which the PD had been clear favorite to win, and speculation has grown that he may be replaced, possibly by the 37-year-old mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi.
The political stalemate in Italy has caused alarm among its European partners because of concern that instability could reignite the market crisis that brought the euro zone to the brink of collapse before Monti was appointed in November 2011.
On Monday, finance ministers from the 17-member currency bloc meeting in Brussels said they were optimistic that whatever government was formed in Italy would show responsibility.
Monti remains in charge of day-to-day government business until a new government is formed, but cannot introduce any major legislation.
His own involvement in the election, in which he led a centrist grouping that won just over 10 percent of the vote, is thought to have ruled him out for another term as a non-partisan head of government.