Italy's political crisis moved into unchartered waters on Wednesday, as the head of state sought a last-minute political compromise to end the three-month search for a government and restore calm to financial markets.
Prime Minister-designate Carlo Cottarelli, tasked by the president with calming tensions and laying plans for repeat elections later this year, raised hopes of a breakthrough on Wednesday with comments suggesting compromise was in the air.
Italy has searched for a government since inconclusive elections in March. Two anti-establishment parties came close to forming a ruling coalition last weekend, but backed away after the president demanded a change in their cabinet lineup.
The 5-Star Movement and the right-wing League abandoned their bid to take power in a coalition after President Sergio Mattarella vetoed their choice of 81-year-old eurosceptic Paolo Savona as economy minister.
The prospect of the political crisis being drawn out further with possible new elections later this year has brought turmoil to financial markets.
But Cottarelli, whom Mattarella brought in as a stop-gap prime minister, was quoted by ANSA news agency as saying that new possibilities had emerged "for the birth of a political government," implying that a government headed by politicians rather than technocrats like himself could be in the offing.
"These circumstances, also considering the market tensions, have caused me to wait for further developments."
The 5-Star also seemed willing to rethink its weekend decision to defy the president's veto and go back to elections.
The parties are now trying to find "a point of compromise on another name" for the economy ministry, said a source close to 5-Star, the single-biggest party in the new parliament.
League leader Matteo Salvini, who is surging in opinion polls, appeared to throw cold water on the notion that his party and 5-Star could try again to form a coalition.
He said Italy should return to an election as soon as possible. "The earlier we vote the better because it's the best way to get out of this quagmire and confusion," he told reporters.
He did, however, appear open to an interim administration to govern for a few months, saying an election at the end of July would be "disruptive" for Italian seasonal workers.
He invited Mattarella to make the first move, to "explain to us how we can get out of this situation". A League source said the party would not block any quick political solution that would enable Italy to deal with possible "emergencies".
Cottarelli, currently, has no major parliamentary support for a stopgap government of technocrats.
Despite the softer tone from 5-Star and Cottarelli's intriguing remark, a top adviser to Salvini said the League was not prepared to abandon Savona, the sole obstacle to the League and 5-Star winning the president's blessing for a coalition.
Repeat elections are likely to lead to a eurosceptic government in Rome, a prospect that has rocked financial markets, with the euro sinking to multi-month lows.