Ex-academic Romano Prodi is set to be one of the key figures in the realignment of Italian politics, says a British academic specialist.
Mark Donovan, lecturer in politics at the University of Wales College of Cardiff, sees Professor Prodi - who has offered himself as the left's candidate for the premiership at the next elections - as a Jacques Delors-like figure, capable of winning enough centrist support to make the left possible winners.
Dr Donovan says: "He was previously identified with the left of the Christian Democrats. As a former head of the IRI group he has credibility with business, but is not seen as a neo-liberal.
"He will appeal to people in the public services and the trade unions. He offers a means of bringing the PDS, the former Communists who are the largest group on the left, together with the centre."
Dr Donovan believes that Italy is still in a period of extreme political flux, with the current government led by Lamberto Dini merely a holding operation while the party elites realign themselves. "One oddity in the current situation is that Dini is seen as being on the right, but is being kept in power by the votes of the left".
While Prodi looks set to dominate the left, the ruling right will be fought over by ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini, the neo-fascist National Alliance leader, whose visit next week to the Royal Institute of International Affairs has caused controversy.
Dr Donovan says: "It is too soon to say if Berlusconi is on the way out. He lost a great deal of face in his rows with President Scalfaro, but he is still much too powerful to be dismissed.
"There is no immediate replacement for him on the right and my guess is that he will stay around either until an alternative emerges or he is brought down by some scandal".
He doubts that Fini is an immediate alternative, but believes: "It is quite possible that Berlusconi will be prime minister in five years time, and in any case his party will be an important element in any government of the right".
This is a thought to inspire alarm throughout Europe. Dr Donovan argues that this might be over-reacting. "All the evidence is that their vote is essentially centrist and that will certainly act as a restraint upon them."
Outcomes may to some extent be out of the hands of all three. Dr Donovan points to two further splits set to further confuse the Italian party system.
"The largest party in parliament, the Northern League, is on the point of disintegration - it has around 100 deputies and nobody can be sure what is going to happen to them. And the Popular Party, the former Christian Democrats have a leader in Rocco Buttiglione who tends to the right, but the majority of the membership leans to the right".
The eventual outcome, he believes, should be the development of two opposing party blocs of left and right who will alternate in power: "There is little support for a return to the old-style centrist domination with the National Alliance and the PDS permanently excluded".