Rome: The prospect of an election re-run in July grew on Monday as Italian President Sergio Mattarella held a final round of consultations to try to break two months of political deadlock with party leaders still far apart.
The leaders of the two parties with most parliamentary seats, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the far-right League, suggested an election should be held on July 8 if no last-minute deal can be reached to form a new government.
League leader Matteo Salvini and 5-Star chief Luigi Di Maio proposed the date after a meeting in parliament - their first face-to-face encounter since the March 4 ballot produced a hung parliament.
"July 8 is the first possible date to vote, and Di Maio also agrees," Salvini told reporters after the meeting.
Earlier on Monday Salvini asked Mattarella to give him a mandate to try to form a government as chief of a centre-right alliance that won the most seats at the election.
However, the centre-right is some 50 seats short of majority and a source in the president's office said that without a clear political deal, Mattarella is more likely to try to form a neutral government acceptable to a broad range of parties.
But it looked highly unlikely that such an administration could win a vote of confidence needed to get off the ground, with both the League and 5-Star hostile to the idea.
A vote in July, when many Italians will have already left for their summer holidays, would be unprecedented. In the post-war period elections have always been held in the spring. However, a source close to Mattarella said this outcome was looking increasingly possible.
"From today we are in a new election campaign," Di Maio told supporters on Facebook after his meeting with Salvini. "I know we are asking for a big sacrifice from you to go and vote again, but I don't see any possible alternative. We have done everything we could."
Di Maio has previously said he was ready to form a government with the League. However, he has refused to enter into any coalition deal with the League's main ally, the Forza Italia party led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who 5-Star considers a symbol of political corruption.
Salvini has so far refused to abandon Berlusconi. The head of state is expected to announce his next move either later on Monday, after he has met with delegations from smaller political parties, or on Tuesday.
While the country continues to be governed by the outgoing, caretaker Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, recent data suggest the economy may be faltering. "Signs of a slowdown are intensifying, suggesting a scenario of weaker economic growth," national statistics institute ISTAT said in its monthly bulletin on Monday.