ROME (Reuters) - Italian President Sergio Mattarella summoned Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni to the presidential palace on Sunday, in a strong indication that the head of state has chosen him to try to form a new government.
Caretaker Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned last week after losing a referendum on constitutional reform on which he had staked his job, plunging Italy into a government crisis.
Gentiloni, 62, is due to meet Mattarella at 1130 GMT. If, as expected, he is formally given the mandate, he will begin consultations with political forces to form the next government.
Gentiloni, a bespectacled former journalist, Renzi loyalist and member of Renzi's Democratic Party (PD), will then report back to Mattarella on his progress.
If Gentiloni cannot assemble political backing for a new government, Matterella could ask someone else to try. Mattarella consulted with around 40 political parties over the past three days before summoning Gentiloni.
The legislature is due to carry on until 2018, but early elections could be called at any time once a new electoral law is written to replace one which is widely regarded as unwieldy.
Any new government will have to act quickly to prop up a teetering banking sector, including arranging possible state intervention for the country's third-largest bank, Monte dei Paschi di Siena.
(Reporting by Isla Binnie; editing by Philip Pullella)