Italy's president has appointed Enrico Letta as premier-designate, asking him to form a coalition government representing the country's main parties to end two months of political paralysis and put the country back on the path of reform and growth.
Mr Letta, a 46-year-old long-time centre-left politician and number two Democratic Party leader, said he accepted the job knowing it is an enormous responsibility and that Italy's political class "has lost all credibility".
President Giorgio Napolitano charged Mr Letta with putting together a coalition government of the Democratic Party and the centre-right party of Silvio Berlusconi, the two biggest blocks in parliament, and said he had received assurances that both would support Mr Letta.
"It is the only possible solution," Mr Napolitano said, calling Mr Letta the figure who could rally "a broad convergence of the political forces that can assure a majority in both houses to the government".
Mr Letta will on Thursday begin consultations on forming a cabinet that can win cross-party support and a vote of confidence in parliament.
His improbable candidacy came after the chief of his Democratic Party, Pier Luigi Bersani, resigned after failing to form a government following inconclusive February elections and then failing to unite the party behind a candidate for president.
Mr Bersani had refused to deal with Mr Berlusconi, preventing the possibility of a coalition government.
Mr Letta is a moderate figure along the lines of Mr Bersani, to whom he has been a loyal deputy since 2009, firmly backing him in last fall's primaries against Florence mayor Matteo Renzi. But he has one trump card: his uncle Gianni Letta is a close aide to Mr Berlusconi, a relationship that could prove a key to shoring up a grand coalition among very uneasy partners.
Mr Letta said his main priority was to address the "enormous, unbearable" economic emergency in the eurozone's third-largest economy. Italy has been in recession for over a year and unemployment is at 11.6% with youth unemployment at 37.8%. "It is a very difficult situation, fragile, unprecedented," Mr Letta said.
He promised as a second priority to enact a host of political reforms, including a reduction in the number of parliamentarians and a reform of the electoral law.