ROME (Reuters) - Italian President Giorgio Napolitano urged politicians on Wednesday to rapidly settle their differences over the 2013 budget to make sure there is no delay to a general election next year.
The budget, which must be passed before new elections can be called, had been expected to pass this week, but was delayed when Silvio Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom party demanded more time to consider the bill.
"Avoiding an extension of this kind of institutional uncertainty is in the interests of the country," Napolitano said in a statement.
"It is equally in the interests of the country that ... the electoral campaign is not prolonged excessively so that the full functioning of parliament and the government can be re-established as quickly as possible in a period that is still critical and full of uncertainties for Italy," he said.
The delay to the budget bill caused Prime Minister Mario Monti to postpone his end-of-year news conference at which he had been expected to announce whether he plans to run or not.
A source close to Monti said he would not make any comment on his future until parliament had been dissolved, which is now likely to be delayed until at least next week.
The election, initially due in April, was brought forward after Berlusconi decided to withdraw his party's parliamentary support for Monti, prompting the former European commissioner to announce he would resign as soon as the budget was passed.
No election date had been announced but, before the latest delay, it had been expected in February.
The leader of the center-left Democratic Party, which is leading in opinion polls, called the delay to budget law "indecent and unacceptable".
"You cannot make a law like the budget law subject to party agendas," Pier Luigi Bersani said.
Monti has so far declined to respond publicly to pressure from Italy and abroad for him to seek a second term in the election, but he has done nothing to dampen the speculation.
Without citing any sources, Italian newspapers said on Wednesday that Monti was ready to back a new centrist grouping set up by Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo which wants him to remain in office. It was not clear whether he would run as its candidate for prime minister or take a more back-seat role.
(Reporting By Catherine Hornby; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)