By Giselda Vagnoni
ROME (Reuters) - Italy's new prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, said on Thursday that he aimed to restore unity and cohesion following a divisive referendum, and continue the economic reforms begun by his predecessor, Matteo Renzi.
Speaking at the prime minister's traditional year-end news conference, Gentiloni, 62, who took office less than three weeks ago, said he would try "to mend the many lacerations that are threatening our social fabric and our cohesion".
The former foreign minister took over when Renzi resigned after almost three years in power after his constitutional reform plan was rejected in a Dec. 4 referendum.
Renzi, who leads the ruling Democratic Party, wants to make a comeback and is pushing for an election in the spring, a year ahead of schedule, but Gentiloni avoided giving any hints on how long his own government would last.
"We will stay in office as long as we have the confidence of parliament," he said.
In a two-and-a-half hour news conference, Gentiloni said he aimed to "complete the reforms" begun by Renzi, focusing on labor rules and helping under-developed southern regions.
He said tax credits that Renzi introduced to encourage investment in the south did not seem to be working, and he promised to curb the use of so-called job "vouchers".
These vouchers, worth 10 euros each, are a form of payment that gives workers no rights to sick pay, holidays or leave. Their use has shot up in recent years and trade unions have called for a referendum to abolish them.
The timing of the next election may depend on how quickly Italy can reform its electoral law.
There are two different systems in place for the two houses of parliament, which means elections would be unlikely to yield a clear result. But while all the parties agree on the need for reform, there is no consensus over a new law.
Using understated tones in sharp contrast to Renzi's exuberant and often confrontational style, Gentiloni said his government would encourage the parties to reach a deal but make no proposal of its own.
The electoral system pushed through by Renzi in 2015 is unusable because it assumed the upper house Senate would no longer be directly elected, as envisaged by his constitutional reform which was thrown out in the referendum.
(Writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Louise Ireland)