Laura Boldrini, a former UN refugee agency official and a passionate advocate for migrants’ rights, has been elected president of Italy’s lower house of parliament.
Boldrini, a first-time deputy for the Left, Ecology and Freedom (SEL) party, was also supported by the Democratic Party (PD), the biggest faction in the centre-left alliance that won the February 24-25 elections by a whisker.
Boldrini’s election to the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies on Saturday cleared one obstacle to the creation of a government.
A president for the Senate, or upper house, also needs to be chosen, but the election is harder because no coalition has enough seats in the chamber to elect its own candidate.
The centre-left has proposed Piero Grasso, formerly Italy’s top anti-mafia prosecutor. His chances of winning rest on the Five Star Movement (M5S), an anti-establishment party which has emerged as the third-largest force in parliament.
Centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani has repeatedly asked the M5S to strike a deal, but has so far been rebuffed.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said he would start government coalition talks on Wednesday.
He urged politicians to be ready for compromise in order to break the deadlock.
Bersani is trying to form a government with the M5S and has ruled out a grand coalition with Berlusconi.
There is also a centrist grouping led by outgoing premier Mario Monti, but it did not win enough seats to be able to act as kingmaker.
The political stalemate has raised fears that Italy will be left rudderless for a prolonged period, despite the urgent need for reforms to create jobs and growth amid a severe recession.
However, financial markets have, for the moment, remained relatively calm.
If no ruling majority can be formed in coming weeks, new elections may be called. However, this cannot happen until the newly elected parliament votes on a successor to Napolitano, whose term ends in May.