Italian parliament seeks way forward

Italy's parliament convenes on Friday almost three weeks after last month's inconclusive election.

Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti prepares to cast his ballot in a polling station on 24 February 2013 in Milan. Picture: AFP

ROME - Italy's parliament convenes on Friday almost three weeks after last month's inconclusive election, with the parties still deadlocked over how to form a government in the euro zone's third largest economy.

The first task of the 630 lower house deputies and 315 senators will be to elect the speakers of the two houses. The outcome of the votes for these influential roles could give an indication of the prospects for a stable administration.

The election produced a hung parliament, with the centre-left winning control over the lower house Chamber of Deputies but not of the Senate, which has equal legislative powers.

If the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which holds the balance of power, agrees to do a deal over the parliamentary speakers with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) it may pave the way to a broader agreement on the formation of a government.

Since the election 5-Star, led by comedian Beppe Grillo, has rebuffed repeated invitations by PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani to govern together.

Despite doing better than expected in the vote, Silvio Belusconi's centre-right has been politically sidelined because both Bersani and Grillo rule out any deal with the former prime minister who has also been beset by legal problems.

However, this could still change if Bersani and Grillo fail to come to terms and President Giorgio Napolitano tries to broker another broad, right-left coalition like the one that backed outgoing technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti.

Napolitano will begin consultations with party chiefs over the new government on 19 March.

While the election failed to produce a clear result, it did yield what has been hailed as a positive change of direction in terms of the relative youth of the parliamentarians elected and a big increase in women.

It will be by far the youngest parliament in Italy's history, thanks largely to 5-Star's 163 deputies and senators, none of whom have any previous parliamentary experience.

Overall, the lawmakers' average age of 48 is still lower than that of their counterparts in Germany, France, Spain, Britain and the United States, while the proportion of women has jumped to around 31 percent from 20 percent previously.

Voting for the two speakers begins at 0930 GMT in the lower house and 1000 in the Senate. The majority required diminishes after each inconclusive ballot.