Italians are set to go to the polls to elect a new parliament on 9 April of next year after an announcement by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Berlusconi's opinion poll ratings have dropped recently
The term of the current parliament is due to expire in May and there was speculation Mr Berlusconi would seek to hold out to the very end.
He told reporters he had consulted his interior minister about the timing.
Opposition leader Romano Prodi suggested the April date this week after winning centre-left primaries.
Speaking in Rome, Mr Berlusconi said he believed it was the right date for the polls after consulting his own Interior Minister, Giuseppe Pisanu.
The Italian President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, has the final say on the date but earlier indicated he favoured an early ballot.
Observers say Mr Berlusconi's popularity has been hit by Italy's poor economic performance while opposition confidence of a return to power has been growing.