Italy: Italy is keenly awaiting outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti's decision on Sunday on whether to run for a new term in February's general election.
Just hours ahead of the announcement -- expected to be made at an end of year press conference at 1000 GMT -- the premier appeared still to be wavering over whether to fight billionaire Silvio Berlusconi for the post.
The former eurocrat, who resigned on Friday, "is still deciding," said minister Andrea Riccardi, while the premier himself was quoted by political sources as saying late Saturday "I am thinking things over. I have neither said yes nor no."
Favoured by European leaders, the markets and the Church, Monti has been urged to put himself up as a candidate in the February 24 and 25 election to prevent Italy from slipping back into the debt crisis mire -- and to block the possible return of the scandal-tainted Berlusconi.
But after days of rumours in the halls of power that Monti, who was parachuted into the job and has never been elected, is ready to enter the fray, political observers did an about-turn on Saturday, saying he was wracked by doubts over whether to run.
If he does put his hat in the ring, he will find himself up against centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, a cigar-chomping ex-communist who is the current favourite.
He would also have to take on the irrepressible Berlusconi, who has already begun to boost his low popularity levels with an intense media campaign which he hopes will land him the premiership for a fourth time.
Monti's name cannot officially be put on the ballot as he is already a senator for life, but after the elections the former economics professor could still be appointed to a post in government, including prime minister.
Much of Monti's support has come from small centrist parties which hope he will lead or endorse them in the campaign, but recent polls suggest he would be unlikely to boost their votes enough to beat Berlusconi.
After a mandate based on austerity, Monti has lost favour among Italians and his popularity ratings have plunged, from more than 60 percent shortly after he took over last year to around 30 percent in recent weeks.
Some observers say he is unwilling to risk losing the respect he has earned abroad by entering, and losing, a messy election battle.
Lina Palermini, political commentator at Il Sole 24 Ore financial daily, said Monti was unlikely to make any big announcements on Sunday, but would play for time.
"He will present his political manifesto, an appeal to Italians and the political forces," she said.
"It will only be afterwards, on the basis of the amount of support gained and his standing in the opinion polls, that he will decide on a political plan," she added.
In refusing thus far to let slip his intentions, the professorial 69-year-old Monti-- whose first foray into politics was his emergency appointment to power at the end of 2011 -- has stayed true to his reputation for prudence.
As Italians look back over what he has accomplished in office, his success in rescuing the country from potential bankruptcy is increasingly offset by growing bitterness over his biting austerity policies.
"Painful cuts, an exhausting climb back up... Italy is miraculously still standing, but we don't know how," La Stampa newspaper said, while Il Fatto Quotidiano described Monti's reign as "13 months of tears and blood."