ROME Italy will not hold elections until the natural end of the legislature in spring next year, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who leads the ruling Democratic Party (PD), said on Saturday.
Renzi said he saw little hope of reforming the electoral system after a deal between the four largest parties broke down this week, meaning Italy will probably vote with a system considered inefficient and unlikely to produce a majority.
In an interview with daily Corriere della Sera, Renzi denied that he wanted to go to the polls this autumn, as was widely believed, and when asked when he expected the election he replied: "in 2018, at the end of the legislature."
Italy's two largest parties, the PD and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, have blamed each other since a deal on switching to a new proportional representation electoral system based on the German model collapsed on Thursday.
"It was our duty to try (for an accord) but now the game is over," Renzi said. "We have a horizon of nearly a year until the elections, so let's work for Italy."
He said the election, which must be held by May 2018, could be held using the current system which involves different voting rules for the two houses of parliament, and which President Sergio Mattarella had asked the parties to reform.
In a separate interview in the same newspaper, 5-Star deputy Luigi Di Maio, widely expected to be the movement's candidate for prime minister, also said he believed the election would be fought in 2018 using the current system.
"There are no longer the conditions in this parliament to reform the electoral law," he said.
Despite the standoff, the main parties voted in the Chamber of Deputies last week to resume negotiations over electoral reform in a parliamentary committee.
The PD and 5-Star are Italy's most popular parties, each commanding around 30 percent of voter support, according to opinion polls. The latest poll, published in Corriere on Saturday, put 5-Star on 30.6 percent and the PD on 29.3 percent.
(Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Hugh Lawson)