* Napolitano says Monti needed to ensure political stability
* No sign of end to deadlock, parties wrangle in parliament
* Threat of new elections if no breakthrough reached
By James Mackenzie
ROME, March 16 Italian President Giorgio
Napolitano told Prime Minister Mario Monti on Saturday he would
need to stay on as long as political parties fail to reach an
accord that would allow a new government to be established after
a deadlocked election.
Italy has been mired in political stalemate since the
February vote that saw the centre-left alliance of Pier Luigi
Bersani secure a majority in the lower house but fail to win the
numbers to control the Senate as well and form a government.
"It is important that in Europe, and in the exercise of
whatever initiatives are possible and needed especially for the
economy and jobs, the government remains under the authoritative
leadership of Mario Monti until a new government is formed,"
Napolitano said in a statement.
With memories still fresh of the financial crisis that
brought Monti to power in 2011, the impasse has aroused fears
that bond markets could take fright, reigniting the turmoil and
endangering the government's ability to manage Italy's
2-trillion-euro public debt pile.
Parliament sat for the first time on Friday and was expected
to complete the elaborate process of electing new speakers on
Saturday. But the parties have remained far apart, with no sign
of any readiness to work together and strike a deal.
Napolitano said he would begin consultations with party
leaders on Wednesday to see if there is any chance that any of
them can muster enough support to form a workable majority in
Saturday's statement, which followed a meeting with Monti on
Friday evening, ends speculation that the former European
Commissioner could leave government and take over the
influential position as speaker of the Senate as part of a wider
deal with the centre-left.
Italian newspapers reported that the decision was made over
the objections of Monti, who had hoped to take the Senate helm,
the second highest office of state after the president.
Even by the byzantine standards of Italian politics, the
situation is unusually complicated but if the parties cannot
cooperate to find a way out of the stalemate, Italy faces the
prospect of a return to the ballot box within a few months.
Bersani's attempts to reach an agreement with Beppe Grillo's
anti-establishment 5-Star Movement - which holds the balance of
power in parliament - have been rebuffed and he has ruled out
any deal with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose
centre-right alliance makes up the second strongest bloc.
The election of the lower house and Senate speakers, who
play a central role in setting the parliamentary agenda, was the
first concrete test of whether any breakthrough was possible.
However, the complex process, involving repeated rounds of
voting that allow the parties to sound out each other's
intentions, instead made clear how wide the divisions remain.
Bersani had been prepared to offer the 5-Star Movement the
position of lower house speaker in exchange for a broader
agreement that would allow the centre-left to form a government
but Grillo made clear very quickly that he was not interested.
The centre-left has the numbers to impose its own choice in
the lower house and could also win in the Senate, depending on
the results of a run-off ballot. But the inability so far to
forge an agreement has underlined the stalemate that will face
Napolitano when he begins consultations on Wednesday.
Berlusconi's own position has been made more difficult by
trials on charges of tax fraud and paying for sex with a minor.
He also faces an investigation into allegations he bribed a
former Senator to change sides in 2006 to help bring down the
last centre-left government.
The trials have sparked furious accusations by Berlusconi's
People of Freedom (PDL) party, which says politically motivated
prosecutors are trying to destroy him. PDL members staged a
demonstration on the steps of the Milan courthouse this week.
On Saturday, judges ruled that a hearing in the tax fraud
trial related to Berlusconi's Mediaset broadcasting empire could
be delayed until March 23 due to the eye problems which kept the
76-year-old media magnate in hospital all week.