Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Saturday dissolved parliament after a series of consultations with party leaders, which came following the resignation of Prime Minister Mario Monti.
"I have signed the decree of parliament dissolution, which was the obvious conclusion and already marked by facts," Napolitano told a press conference after the round of meetings.
He recalled Monti's announcement of early resignation on December 8 after former premier Silvio Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom party (PdL) withdrew support from the emergency cabinet.
In the lapse of time between Monti's step back and the vote, which was just set to be held on February 24-25, the caretaker government is due to remain in place for acts of ordinary administration.
Napolitano wished that the upcoming electoral campaign will be held with "competitive but also constructive spirit" shared by all political forces.
"The phase of the Monti technocratic government is closed, we are going to the polls ... we are aware that Italy now deserves a second phase" made of "progressive policies and reforms," the leader in the parliament lower chamber of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), Dario Franceschini, said after meeting Napolitano.
Franceschini thanked Monti, who handed in his formal resignation on Friday following the approval of the 2013 budget law, "for putting his international credibility to the service of the country."
The PD, which has a strong lead in the opinion polls, has promised to maintain the "agenda" of deficit reduction targets that the former European Commissioner has agreed with the EU while implementing more growth-oriented policies to stimulate Italy's stagnant economy.
Over the past weeks, Monti has been under increasing pressure of business communities and European leaders to stand for a second mandate, but over the last hours most local observers have considered this probability as unlikely.
The 69-year-old economist, who took the helm of the emergency unelected cabinet 13 months ago to save Italy from deepening crisis, has kept his intention a secret and is expected to speak about his future during a press conference scheduled for Sunday.
He could present an "agenda" that the next government should pursue to follow up with his austerity policy, or endorse a group of moderate figures belonging to centrist parties, said sources quoted by local media.
The resigned premier's approval rating has risen from 33 percent to 38 percent over the last week but 60 percent of Italians do not want him to run in the upcoming general election, according to the SWG polling agency.
The PD and the PdL, the two biggest parties which have backed the Monti reforms in the past year, rejected the technocrat taking the political field saying that he would make a mistake by standing for top office again.
Monti needs to "maintain his technical profile of neutrality and impartiality" during the electoral campaign, said the PdL leader in the parliament upper chamber, Maurizio Gasparri, adding that a "difficult" phase has opened for the recession-hit country.
Gian Luca Galletti, the leader in the parliament lower chamber of the third biggest party backing the government in the past year, the centrist Union of the Center (UDC), whished Saturday that Italy firmly continues with the work carried by Monti "in order not to frustrate the efforts of citizens."