President Sergio Mattarella said Thursday that he will give Italy's political parties until early next week to try to form a new government before he decides whether to dissolve Parliament and call early elections.
"Some political parties have informed me that they have begun negotiations to form a new government ... and have asked me for time to develop those negotiations," the president told reporters at Quirinale Palace in Rome.
"It is my duty not to evade the majority will of the Parliament and at the same time, I have the duty to ask, in the interest of the country, for rapid solutions," he said.
"I have convened a new round of consultations that will start next Tuesday to hear from the parties again and make the necessary decisions," Mattarella said.
The president initiated the first round of consultations on Wednesday, a day after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte presented his resignation in response to the presentation of a no-confidence motion by one of the two deputy premiers, Matteo Salvini.
The leader of the far-right League party tabled the motion less than two weeks after saying that his party could no longer govern Italy in coalition with the populist Five Star Movement and demanding new elections as soon as possible.
Elections would have to be held within a window of 45-70 days after Parliament is dissolved, meaning that the soonest a new ballot could take place is October.
Italy's most recent general elections were in the spring of 2018.
"The constitution foresees that Italians will be called to the polls every five years," Mattarella said Thursday, urging the parties to demonstrate a sense of institutional responsibility.
He acknowledged, however, that in the absence of a parliamentary majority for a new government, he will have no choice but to advance the elections.
Between them, Five Star and the center-left Democratic Party have enough seats in Parliament to form an administration that could survive a no-confidence motion, though their attempt to forge a partnership following the 2018 elections ended in failure.
The Democrats are open to talks with Five Star in pursuit of "the formation of a distinct majority and the opening of a new political phase," the party's leader, Nicola Zingaretti, said.
But a Democratic-Five Star government would have to mark a departure, in both political and policy terms, from the outgoing League-Five Star administration, Zingaretti said.
He said that the Democratic Party's agenda includes a number of "non-negotiable principles," such as the reaffirmation of Italy's "European vocation."
Skepticism - verging on outright hostility - toward the European Union was one of the things that brought the League and Five Star together to form a government in 2018.
"We have commenced the conversations to try to have a solid parliamentary majority to govern the country," Five Star chief Luigi Di Maio said Thursday.
Five Star's proposals for a new government emphasize keeping the movement's 2018 campaign promise to substantially reduce the number of seats in Parliament and crafting a 2020 budget that promotes social equality through public assistance programs and incentives to firms to create jobs.
Meanwhile, the man who ignited the crisis, Salvini, said that while he would prefer early elections, he was willing to resume the partnership with Five Star.
"I want to give the final word to the people. But if someone wants to get the country moving again, we are ready to do so without prejudice," he said Thursday after meeting with Mattarella.
Controversial former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi spoke of trying to form a right-wing governing coalition comprising his Forza Italia party, the League and the Brothers of Italy, but those parties would need support from others to reach a majority in Parliament.
"Elections are inevitable," Brothers party leader Giorgia Meloni said outside the Quirinale Palace following talks with Mattarella.
"They are the only possible way out, respectful of Italy and the constitution," she said. EFE