Silvio Berlusconi's party threatened to delay the approval of Italy's 2013 budget law on Tuesday, a move that could push back Prime Minister Mario Monti's resignation and perhaps slightly delay the parliamentary election, now expected in February.
The budget had been expected to be approved by the end of the week, with Monti's resignation to follow immediately but that is looking increasingly unlikely.
"We plan on taking all the time that we need to examine the law well," Fabrizio Cicchitto, leader of Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party in the lower house, told reporters.
The centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which holds a strong lead in the opinion polls, accused the PDL of trying to win more time to campaign and make up the gap.
"The aim is to delay the parliamentary vote," PD lower house president Dario Franceschini told reporters, saying the PDL "evidently needs more time".
Gaining even a few more days of campaigning could make a big difference for the PDL. Berlusconi is Italy's most skilled political campaigner and his extensive media ownership is a treasured asset before a vote.
Budget voting in the Senate had been scheduled for Tuesday, but was delayed by a day because of party disputes. After approval in the Senate, the spending bill must be approved in the lower house without changes to become law.
Ten days ago Monti pledged to resign immediately after the passage of the budget because Berlusconi's party had withdrawn its support. Monti's promised resignation, if it comes by the end of the year, will bring forward the natural end of the legislature by about two months.
Berlusconi, trailing in the polls by about 15 points, is struggling to seal an alliance with the Northern League, which is key to winning enough Senate seats to give the centre-right bloc a say in the next legislature.
Though the timing may be pushed back, there appears to be no danger that the 2013 budget, which aims to lower payroll taxes and cut the deficit, will not pass by the end of the year, which is the deadline by law.
(Reporting by Roberto Landucci and Giuseppe Fonte; Writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Stephen Powell)