Italian President Sergio Mattarella will hold a second round of talks about the formation of a coalition government on April 12-13, his office said on Tuesday, with no indication that any breakthrough is at hand.
Mattarella has the power to name a prime minister, but elections on March 4 resulted in a hung parliament and a first round of consultations ended in stalemate last week.
Since then, the various political blocs seem to have drifted even further apart, firing daily barbs at each other and showing no sign of wanting to lay aside the rancor of the election campaign and work together on a joint project.
Financial markets have so far shown little alarm about the prospect of prolonged deadlock in Italy, one of the euro zone’s most heavily indebted nations.
The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement emerged as the largest single party from last month’s vote, while a rightist alliance, including the anti-migrant League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, won the biggest bloc of seats.
5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio has suggested forming a government with the League, but has refused to countenance any accord with Berlusconi, who has been convicted of tax fraud and is standing trial for bribing witnesses — a charge he denies.
The League unexpectedly overtook Forza Italia at the ballot box and its chief, Matteo Salvini, has assumed the mantle of leader of the conservative bloc. He has rejected the suggestion that he should split from his allies to hook up with 5-Star.
Looking to put on a display of unity, rightist leaders will see the president together on Thursday, rather than meeting him separately, as they did in the initial round of consultations.
However, Di Maio has not budged on his refusal even to talk with Forza Italia. There is “zero percent chance that 5-Star will go into government with Berlusconi and the centre-right crowd”, he said on Twitter on Monday.
“Di Maio, right now, interests me less than zero,” the League’s Salvini responded.
The third force in parliament, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), has reiterated that it has no intention of helping either side to form a government and plans to spend the coming parliamentary term in opposition after suffering a stinging defeat last month.
With coalition talks apparently going nowhere, political leaders have gone back on the campaign trail for regional elections later this month, suggesting they will wait for these to pass before considering the sort of painful compromises needed to form a government.
If Mattarella fails to overcome the impasse he would have to call new elections, almost certainly in the autumn, but a senior source in his office said he was determined to avoid this.
Italy has a long history of finding a way out of apparently intractable political stalemate and its shortest-lived parliament in the modern era lasted two years.