The head of Italy's centre-left bloc has hit an impasse in his efforts to form a government and said only a mentally ill person would want to govern Italy now. Pier Luigi Bersani was rebuffed by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement on Wednesday.
If he cannot form a coalition, fresh elections could be held in June. Meanwhile caretaker Prime Minister Mario Monti has said he can't wait to leave office. The political stalemate is delaying reforms that could help revive Italy's recession-hit, debt-laden economy.
Mr Bersani's Democratic Party narrowly won the elections last month but lacks the upper house majority needed to govern. Five Star, led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, won an unexpected 25% in the election and holds the balance of power.
Only a mentally ill person could have a burning desire to govern right now, Mr Bersani said at a meeting with Five Star politicians.
I want things to be clear: I am ready to assume a huge amount of responsibility, but I ask everyone else to take on a little bit themselves, Mr Bersani said.
He has ruled out forming a coalition with the centre-right bloc of former PM Silvio Berlusconi, the second largest force in parliament.
Later this week Mr Bersani is expected to report back to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who will decide how to proceed. He has the power to look again to a respected technocrat to try to form an interim government.
Hours after Mr Bersani had suggested that governing Italy at the moment was not perhaps the wisest of moves, caretaker Prime Minister Mario Monti appeared before parliament asserting that his government can't wait to be relieved of its duty.
Monti, an economist and former EU commissioner was appointed caretaker prime minister in November 2011. His austerity measures proved widely unpopular and in last month's election his group came fourth with just 10% of the vote.
Meanwhile Berlusconi told thousands of supporters gathered in central Rome he was ready for a snap vote as his rival began talks to try to form a government.
We are all ready for another election campaign and this time we will win big! the former prime minister shouted from a stage at the start of an hour-long speech. The flag-waving crowd responded with a roar.
The media tycoon's show of force puts pressure on Bersani, who has so far ruled out another centre-right and centre-left government like the one led by Mario Monti, an option Berlusconi said was the only solution that the election result makes possible.
It also suggests seasoned politician Berlusconi, who has already served four times as prime minister, is already in campaign mode and sees elections on the horizon, either in the summer or the fall.