- Italy has been without a fully functioning government for almost a month since the centre-left coalition collapsed, forcing Giuseppe Conte to resign as prime minister.
ROME: Ex-central banker Mario Draghi opened a final round of talks on Monday on forming a new Italian government, as the virus-hit country enters its third week of political paralysis.
The former president of the European Central Bank (ECB) is under pressure to secure the parliamentary support he needs to be sworn in as prime minister before the end of the week.
However, the surprising eagerness of Matteo Salvini's far-right and eurosceptic League party to back the ultra-Europhile Draghi is complicating coalition building.
The League has fraught relations with both the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the two other key players expected to get on board the new administration.
Italy has been without a fully functioning government for almost a month since the centre-left coalition collapsed, forcing Giuseppe Conte to resign as prime minister.
Draghi was brought in by Italy's president last week to form a new national unity government to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic, which has sparked a major recession and left more than 91,000 people dead.
He started a second and final round of talks with smaller parties on Monday, which was due to conclude on Tuesday with separate meetings with M5S, PD and the League.
One of the key issues still open is the extent to which Draghi's cabinet should be made up of technocrats or include politicians, at least partially.
Giving politicians a seat at the table could increase their loyalty to the government, but also risks a repeat of the inter-party bickering that brought down Conte's cabinet.
As things stand, Draghi could have parliamentary support stretching from the leftist Free and Equals to the League, with only the Brothers of Italy, another far-right party, in opposition.
On Saturday, Salvini listed the expected arrival of more than 200 billion euros ($240 billion) in European Union economic recovery funds as one of the reasons to join the government.
"I'd rather be in the room where it gets decided whether that money is used well or used badly, rather than be an outside spectator," he said.
The leaders of M5S, the biggest party in parliament, meanwhile have said they are open to working with Draghi, but the movement is deeply divided.
The question of whether to enter into a national government will be put to M5S members in a 24-hour online poll ending at 1:00pm (1200 GMT) on Thursday.
After his talks, Draghi will report back to President Sergio Mattarella on whether he can form a government -- potentially as early as Wednesday.
He would then need to present a list of ministers and take office with his cabinet following a swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace.
The instalment of the new government would be completed by votes of confidence in the two houses of parliament, where Draghi would spell out his agenda.
Last week, when Mattarella called him in, the 73-year-old said Italy urgently needed to "beat the pandemic" and relaunch its economy.
Nearly 450,000 people lost their jobs in Italy since the pandemic first hit early in 2020, while the economy shrank by around nine per cent -- the biggest contraction since World War II.