ROME (Reuters) - Italian caretaker Prime Minister Mario Monti is mulling his political future after resigning on Friday but a source close to him said he was unlikely to commit soon to any active role in the national election expected in February.
President Giorgio Napolitano was meeting representatives of the main parties on Saturday and later in the day was expected to dissolve parliament and call an election for February 24.
For weeks, speculation has swirled over what role Monti would play in the election.
The former European commissioner, appointed to lead an unelected government to save Italy from financial crisis a year ago, has faced growing pressure to seek a second term and earlier this week Italian media widely reported he would do so.
That now seems far less certain, as Monti has had to digest opinion polls that suggest a centrist group headed by him would probably come a distant third or even fourth in the election, expected to be won by the centre-left Democratic party (PD).
"The outcome of the election may well not be all that favourable and the question is where that would leave his own credibility and also his reform agenda," a person close to Monti told Reuters.
Italy's main newspapers also widely reported on Saturday that he was inclined not to run, partly because of disappointing opinion polls and partly because of doubts about the quality of the centrist parties that would be using his name.
European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso have called for Monti's economic reform agenda to continue but Italy's two main parties insist he should stay out of the race.
Italians are weary of repeated tax hikes and spending cuts and opinion polls offer little evidence they are ready to give Monti a second term. A survey this week showed 61 percent saying he should not stand.
Centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, who was forced to make way for Monti in November last year as Italian borrowing costs surged, has stepped up attacks on his successor in recent days and welcomed his resignation on Friday.
"Today the experience of the technical government is finished and we must hope there will never again be a similar suspension of democracy," he told reporters.
Monti, who has kept his cards close to his chest, is expected to outline his plans at a news conference on Sunday.
Rather than announce his candidacy or endorse a centrist alliance to run in his name, two options widely touted in recent days, he is likely to present a summary of the reforms his technocrat government has achieved and those still required, the source said.
This would put flesh on the rather nebulous "Monti agenda" which has been a buzz-word of Italy's political debate since it became clear Monti was considering remaining in front-line politics.
It would then be up to the political parties to commit to or reject the priorities set out.
By essentially playing for time, Monti would run less risk of being caught up in the crossfire of what promises to be a messy and bitter campaign and would still be free to step into the fray later on, depending on opinion polls.
Reporting by Gavin Jones, edited by Richard Meares