ROME (Reuters) - Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi may drop plans to stand in next year's election if it were necessary to allow the formation of a broad alliance with centrist parties, the secretary of his People of Freedom (PDL) party said on Monday.
The comment followed weeks of speculation that Berlusconi may run as candidate to lead the centre-right in elections expected in April. The 76-year-old has hinted that he would be ready to stand.
"We intend to make every effort to unite a large moderate area as an alternative to the left," the PDL's Angelino Alfano told a news conference with other party leaders.
He invited Pier Ferdinando Casini, leader of the centrist UDC party with whom the PDL has cooperated in the past, to join a new moderate alliance.
"If, as things appear to be going, Silvio Berlusconi does not stand as a candidate himself to favor the unification of the moderate area, you have the right, the possibility, the duty to play a role in rebuilding the moderate area," he told Casini.
Senior PDL officials have pressed Berlusconi to announce his intentions clearly but he has yet to confirm whether he will run for prime minister or play a behind-the-scenes role leading his party.
Opinion polls show the PDL and its allies trailing the centre-left Democratic Party, which intends to hold a primary vote in November to choose its candidate for the election.
However Casini's reaction to the implied invitation to an alliance by Alfano was cautious.
"I think everyone who has any experience of Berlusconi's turnarounds has a duty to be cautious with their judgments at a moment like this and neither try to get out of their duty nor allow themselves to be tricked into anything," he said.
Prime Minister Mario Monti, an economist brought in last year to run an emergency government of technocrats, has ruled out standing as a candidate.
But the former European Commissioner has said he would be prepared to serve a second term if the election does not produce a winner capable of forming a government.
(Reporting By James Mackenzie; Editing by Rosalind Russell)