Matteo Renzi, who triggered Italy's political crisis this month by pulling his Italia Viva party out of the ruling coalition, would like to see former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi become prime minister, a party source said on Sunday.
The former coalition allies are holding talks to try and overcome their differences and revive their government, which formally collapsed last week when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned.
Renzi has repeatedly criticised Conte's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, and a party source confirmed a report in La Stampa newspaper that Italia Viva would like Draghi to become the next prime minister.
"I would say that is one of our proposals," said the source, who declined to be named.
La Stampa newspaper reported on Sunday that President Sergio Mattarella had already sounded out Draghi. The head of state's office swiftly denied this, saying there had been no contact between the two men during the political crisis.
There was no immediate comment from Draghi, who has largely vanished from the public eye since his ECB term ended in 2019.
After three days of talks with party leaders, Mattarella on Friday asked lower house speaker Roberto Fico to mediate between the coalition parties, including Italia Viva, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.
Fico opened the discussions on Saturday. Mattarella asked him to report back on Tuesday.
Renzi, a former prime minister, has said he does not want to talk about who should lead the next government at this stage, arguing that the parties need to agree on a policy pact first.
"Any effort today to fuel a discussion about Draghi is offensive to Draghi and above all to the president of the republic," Renzi said in an interview published on Sunday with Corriere della Sera.
But behind the scenes, his parliamentarians are anonymously pushing an eventual Draghi premiership in a broad-based government, although it was not clear if they preferred this scenario to a revival of the current coalition.
"If the president gives a mandate to Draghi, we would certainly support this," said a senior Italia Viva lawmaker.
Renzi, whose party has barely 2% of voter support, quit the coalition over Conte's handling of Covid-19, in particular his plans for spending more than 200 billion euros ($243 billion) from a European Union fund to help Italy's battered economy.
The PD and 5-Star have both accused Renzi of being irresponsible, saying he triggered the crisis to try and raise his profile and halt his party's rout in the polls.
They have said they are willing to work again with Italia Viva, but Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, a senior 5-Star leader, demanded on Sunday a swift deal.
"Either we get into our heads that we have to start again quickly ... or else future generations will bemoan the follies of politicians who were fighting over (cabinet) seats rather than thinking about Italy's problems," Di Maio said on Facebook.
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