Italian Premier Mario Monti delivers his speech at the Foreign Ministry on the occasion of the Italian Ambassadors conference in Rome, Friday, Dec. 21,
Italian Premier Mario Monti delivers his speech at the Foreign Ministry on the occasion of the Italian Ambassadors conference in Rome, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. Monti's speech in Rome was his last official act as premier. (The Associated Press)

ROME (AP)- Italy's president dissolved parliament Saturday, setting the stage for general elections in February and leaving only one lingering question from Premier Mario Monti's 13-month term trying to fix Italy's troubled finances: whether he will run.

Monti will announce his decision Sunday, ending weeks of speculation and jockeying that have dominated Italy's political discourse and preoccupied much of Europe, which is eager to see Monti's financial reforms continue in the continent's third-largest economy.

With polls showing a Monti-led list would only garner about 15 percent of the vote, all signs indicated he would refrain from campaigning or even allowing his name to be used on a political ticket grouping a handful of small centrist parties.

"Monti leaning towards a 'no'," the Turin daily La Stampa headlined Sunday. "Monti pulls back on running," Corriere della Sera said on its front page.

Whether he might endorse a centrist movement is another matter.

"It's clear that Monti's candidacy would give authority to our political platform, but we'll respect his choices, whatever they may be," said Pier Ferdinando Casini, one of the centrist leaders who have been actively courting Monti in recent weeks.

Monti resigned Friday after ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi's party withdrew its support from his technical government, forcing a crisis that brought a premature and chaotic end to the legislature's five-year term.


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Monti was tapped by Italy's president to lead the country in late November 2011 after Berlusconi was forced to resign, having lost the confidence of international markets in his ability to save the country from a Greek-style debt crisis.

The respected economist and former European Union commissioner won back a degree of international credibility for the country through a series of tax hikes and fiscal reforms that were deeply unpopular at home. Italy's borrowing rates have come down significantly, thanks also to the European Central Bank's bond-buying program.

Monti's resignation set in motion a series of procedures that culminated with President Giorgio Napolitano signing a decree Saturday to dissolve parliament.

Polls indicate the center-left Democratic Party will win the vote, with the upstart populist movement of comic Bepe Grillo coming in second and Berlusconi's People of Freedom party coming in third.

Berlusconi's party has been in disarray ever since he resigned, with defections of top party leaders and chaos over whether the billionaire media mogul will run himself. He has flip-flopped several times about his intentions, with his latest that he would run but would step aside if Monti runs.

Berlusconi's party has also been discredited by a series of party funding scandals that have seen dozens of local politicians placed under investigation for allegedly misusing public funds for personal use. He also was convicted of tax fraud in October and is on trial on charges he paid for sex with an underage woman. He has denied the charges and is appealing the conviction. He also recently announced he was dating a woman nearly 50 years his junior.

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