(File image) Mario Monti

Rome - Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti was expected to resign later Friday, but his political plans ahead of elections likely in February remained uncertain.

Monti was waiting for parliament to approve the 2013 budget, in a final vote scheduled at 6 pm (1700 GMT). He was then expected to chair a final cabinet meeting and hand in his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano either later in the day or on Saturday.

“A year ago this government was at its start, while today - and it's not the fault of the Mayan prophecy - we will have to end our role,” Monti said in jest, referring to doomsday predictions for December 21.

Earlier this week, Napolitano said elections would most likely take place on February 24.

It is still unclear what role Monti will play. When he was sworn in 13 months ago, he was a non-partisan economist at the helm of a technocratic government. Now he is being tipped as the leader of a centrist coalition that could rival former premiere Silvio Berlusconi and the centre-left.

Monti was expected clarify his plans at a press conference on Sunday. His potential allies include Ferrari boss Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, rebels from Berlusconi's conservative camp and Christian democrats.

Fabrizio Cicchitto, a high-ranking member of Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party, urged Monti to join forces with the media mogul, rather than split the anti-left vote. He also blamed his government for depressing the economy with severe austerity measures.

Italy is undergoing a severe recession and youth unemployment is at a record 36.5 per cent. The PDL says Germany is at fault for forcing overly harsh economic policies on weaker eurozone peers, which Monti and others have been too spineless to oppose.

“Germany is a state like any other” that should not be treated with “deference,” Cicchitto said in parliament. “Germany, through Europe, is very effectively looking after its interests.”

He accused the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) - part of the uneasy alliance that kept Monti in power, also comprising the PDL and the centrist UDC - of being unable to stand up to Berlin.

“In the past, you had the same deference towards the Soviet Union,” he said.

According to polls, a PD-led alliance would gain about 40 per cent of votes, while the PDL camp has less than 15 per cent. An alliance with the anti-Europe Northern League, a former ally, would take it to about 25 per cent.

Monti's would-be coalition partners are languishing at about 10

per cent, but their prospects would likely brighten if the premier were to endorse them. The fourth major player is the protest Five Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo, on 16.5 per cent. - Sapa-dpa