ROME: Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi called on the defeated Democratic Party (PD) to help his centre-right bloc form a government, saying Italy had to avoid a swift return to the polls.
The March 4 election ended in stalemate, with an alliance of centre-right and far-right parties falling 49 seats short of a majority in the lower house of parliament. The largest single party, the 5-Star Movement, was 95 seats adrift.
Either group could govern if they win the backing of the centre-left bloc, dominated by the PD, which picked up just 112 seats in the 630-seat lower house. The PD could also provide both camps with a majority in the upper house Senate.
The PD's outgoing leader, Matteo Renzi, has said his party will head into opposition and has ruled out hooking up with either the conservative bloc or the anti-establishment 5-Star.
Berlusconi told La Stampa newspaper the election result meant he and his rightist allies had "the right, and above all the duty, to lead the next government", and he called on the PD to show a sense of responsibility.
"Nobody ... can ignore the country's need to be governed," he said, adding it would be much better to take "a few weeks" to put together a coalition rather than rush to a new election.
"... New elections would be both a dreadful sign for our democracy and would probably lead to a dead end," he said.
For the first time in his 25 years in politics, Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party was beaten into second place within his alliance by the far-right, anti-immigrant League, led by Matteo Salvini.
Centre-left politicians have suggested the League should break ranks with its conservative allies and join forces in parliament with the 5-Star.
"I categorically rule this out. I trust Salvini's loyalty and his political intelligence. I cannot see how a party in our coalition could imagine cooperating with a 5-Star government," Berlusconi said.
While the right and the 5-Star jostle for position to form the next government, senior PD members are to meet on Monday to start plotting a new course after their election rout.
They are expected to establish a timetable for a leadership battle following Renzi's resignation. The meeting might also make clearer if there is any support within the party to help their opponents form a government.
The new parliament meets for the first time on March 23. One of its first duties will be to elect presidents for the two chambers, which will give a first glimpse of party dynamics within the legislature.
Salvini indicated at the weekend that the League should lead one house and the 5-Star the other. However, looking to forge ties with the centre-left, Forza Italia suggested the conservatives should back a PD candidate in one of the chambers.