The Italian president has called early elections that seem likely to return former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to power.
Reflecting the mood of many in the country Georgio Napolitano said he regretted having “to call voters back to the polling booths” without having introduced electoral reforms.
He wanted to overhaul the system which has produced successive short-lived administrations in Italy.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s government was the latest to fall. His centre-left alliance collapsed amid a policy dispute.
The veteran of the left has announced he will not be spearheading his parties challenge for re-election.
His popularity has plummetted during his two years in power and surveys suggest he would have struggled to lead the left to victory.
The momentum is now with Berlusconi. He was the most vocal in calls for a new election and has a solid lead in the polls. But last time around it was his fragile government that foundered in in-fighting.
He will be up against Walter Veltroni, the Mayor of Rome. But he has already said his Democratic Party will run alone, leaving the left in more fragmentend than before.