ROME (Reuters) - Italian centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani confirmed on Tuesday he would meet his centre-right rival Silvio Berlusconi soon, but held out little hope of a breakthrough in the political stalemate since February’s inconclusive election.
Bersani, who won a majority in the lower house but fell short of the Senate majority which would have allowed him to form a government, has so far refused Berlusconi’s demands for a “grand coalition” between the two rival forces.
He said he would meet Berlusconi “some time in the next few days” to discuss the election of Italy’s next president, a process involving both houses of parliament as well as representatives from the regions which begins on April 18.
However he stuck to his rejection of Berlusconi’s demands to share power in a “grand coalition” or “governissimo” saying the centre-right leader had shown during the technocrat government of Mario Monti that he could not be trusted.
“When I meet him, I will say, ‘We haven’t forgotten. We know you even if you try to disguise yourself’,” he told RAI state television.
“We’re trustworthy and we look for trustworthiness in others, if there are proposals we’ll see. Only they shouldn’t come with proposals for a ‘governissimo’ because that’s not possible. If they’ve got other ideas, we can talk about it.”
The comment underlines how set the deadlock between the two main formations in parliament remains more than 40 days after the election which left no party able to form a government.
The other main force, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement led by ex-comic Beppe Grillo has refused any alliance with either of the big parties it blames for Italy’s deep social and economic crisis.
Bersani has so far stuck to his rejection of a deal with Berlusconi despite increasing calls from senior figures in sections of his party for a dialogue with the centre-right to avoid a potentially destabilising return to the polls.
He wants to present a limited set of proposals to parliament and seek wider accord among the parties for a broad series of institutional reforms, including changes to the widely criticised electoral law which led to the stalemate.
Berlusconi has demanded that the centre-right be allowed to choose the next head of state as the price of its support to a government led by the centre-left. He says the only alternative is new elections at the earliest date possible in June or July.
The impasse is expected to complicate the election of the successor to President Giorgio Napolitano, whose term in office ends on May 15.
That vote will be vital because with his mandate about to expire, Napolitano no longer has the power to dissolve parliament and call new elections and it will be up to his successor to find a way out of the deadlock.
Reporting By James Mackenzie; Editing by Jon Boyle