By Giselda Vagnoni
ROME (Reuters) - With hundreds of Italy's lawmakers months away from qualifying for a life-long pension for less than five years' work, skeptics say many of them hope to delay a snap election until their benefits are locked in.
"(Some lawmakers) are really bent on reaching the end of the legislature so as not to lose their current salaries as well as their annuities for life," Vittorio Feltri, editor of right-wing daily Libero, wrote in an editorial.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned on Wednesday following a resounding defeat in a referendum on constitutional change on which he had staked his job.
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President Sergio Mattarella began consultating political leaders on Thursday to seek a consensus to back a government. Without that, he will have no choice but to dissolve parliament and call early elections.
The current five-year legislature is scheduled to end in March, 2018. First-term legislators can only lock in a pension of about 1,000 euros ($1,060) a month once they get to retirement age if they stay in office for four-and-a-half years, which would be reached on Sept. 16, 2017.
Many working class Italians have to work their whole lives to get a similar pension. About 6 million currently draw pensions of less than 1,000 euros, according to state pensions administrator INPS.
About 600 of Italy's 945 legislators are in their first term, according to data from both houses of parliament. Renzi's Democratic Party (PD) alone counts at least 200 novices.
Two resurgent opposition parties - the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the anti-immigrant Northern League - have called for early elections, but others have shown less enthusiasm.
"5-Star lawmakers could not care less about pensions, but this might well be a concern for all the other MPs who are clinging to their positions and privileges," 5-Star Senator Ornella Bertorotta said.
A PD source said pension determinations always weighed on the minds of lawmakers during political crises but she did not think it would be a primary motivation to delay elections.
One member of parliament, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he believed that even if Mattarella appointed an interim prime minister, there would be pressure from first-term parliamentarians to make the government last at least until their pensions are guaranteed.
(Editing by Philip Pullella and Robin Pomeroy)