Italy's parliament reconvened for the first time since inconclusive elections in March, with lawmakers casting votes to determine the presidents of both parliamentary chambers.
The first round of voting for both chambers was inconclusive, however, after an apparent deal between two populist parties fell through.
The euroskeptic 5 Star Movement (M5S), which gained the most votes in the general election, had apparently agreed to split the presidents of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies with the far-right League.
Berlusconi undermines populists
But M5S party leader Luigi Di Maio said the deal fell through after former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi fronted an ex-economy minister who had been convicted of embezzlement. The former premier, who was convicted of tax fraud, reportedly demanded to meet with Di Maio.
"Everything seemed like it was moving in the right direction, then at a certain point, there was this story about Berlusconi insisting on meeting me," said Di Maio. Matteo Salvini, who leads the League, "had been selected to speak for the center right, and that's who we talked to."
Tough talks ahead
In the Italian general election earlier this month, M5S managed to lead the vote with 32 percent. A right-of-center alliance including the League, Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the Brothers of Italy garnered 37 percent of the vote, shy of the 40 percent needed to govern.
However, the League beat out Forza Italia with 18 percent of the vote, making its leader the leading voice of the alliance, a first since the two parties had decided to join forces in 1994.
While the two populist parties could try to form a government without Forza Italia, analysts believe it is unlikely, given Berlusconi's role in bolstering support for the right-of-center alliance.
"The lack of visibility on the future government is likely to persist for weeks and the outcome of the consultations that will start later this month remains highly uncertain," said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of the New York-based Teneo Intelligence.
If all else fails
The election of the presidents of the parliamentary chambers must be completed before Italian President Sergio Mattarella can begin consulting with parties to form a government.
In the event that no political leader emerges to form a government, Mattarella can handpick one for a limited mandate. That option could lead to early elections.
"As things stand, we see new elections as the most plausible outcome," said political analyst Federico Santi of the New York-based Eurasia Group.
ls/kl (Reuters, AP, dpa)