Senior members of Italy's vanquished Democratic Party on Tuesday were defying outgoing leader Matteo Renzi and eying a possible deal with the triumphant Five Star Movement after an election that ended in deadlock.
Anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) leader Luigi Di Maio declared his party "the winners" after obtaining nearly 33 percent of the vote, but they need to form alliances in parliament if they are to govern.
Renzi ruled out the prospect as he announced his resignation on Monday, following disaster at the polls that saw his party's center-left coalition slump to third place with 23 percent of the vote.
"During the campaign, we said we would not do a government with extremists. We have not changed our mind," Renzi said, adding that the Democratic Party (PD) would "not be a crutch for anti-system forces".
Political expert Giovanni Orsina said Renzi's departure meant "a convergence between the PD and the M5S is much more probable because Renzi was an obstacle to this."
But Renzi on Tuesday said he would only step down once a new government is formed, and would act as a "guarantor" that his party made no compromise with what he called the "wind of extremism" that swept Italy in Sunday's election.
However other leading voices in his party disagree and he now faces pressure to bring forward his resignation.
Michele Emiliano, governor of the Puglia region and a leading PD member said his party could offer "external support" to a M5S government.
In an interview with Il Fatto Quotidiano daily, Emiliano berated Renzi for not stepping down immediately.
"In order to cling on, he is willing to stall the political system," Emiliano said.
- Euro 'failed currency' -
With almost all ballots counted, the main right-wing alliance was in the lead with 37 percent, followed by the M5S and the center-left alliance led by the PD.
The vote has drawn comparisons with the Brexit referendum in Britain and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump because of the anti-immigration and anti-establishment rhetoric, raising concern in European capitals about instability.
Far-right leader Matteo Salvini of the League party, the biggest grouping in the right-wing coalition after Sunday's election, has claimed his right to govern.
Salvini campaigned on an anti-immigration platform, promising to deport hundreds of thousands of "irregular" migrants, and has called the euro a "failed currency".
Media mogul Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (Go Italy) party came second in the coalition -- a humiliating setback for the three-time former prime minister.
With no party or alliance commanding an overall majority, M5S leader Luigi Di Maio also wants the prime ministerial nomination after his party hoovered up votes from Italians fed up with a slow economic recovery.
- 'Nothing will be as before' -
Di Maio, who is due to visit his hometown of Pomigliano d'Arco, an industrial base near Naples later Tuesday, will now face a difficult balancing act.
Any perception of cosy deals with other parties following the election risks alienating his core support from Italians angered by traditional politics.
A deal with the Five Star Movement could also divide the PD, where many are smarting from the movement's victories in traditional leftist heartlands.
"The key question for the coming days is what the PD will do," said Orsina.
"Neither the right-wing alliance nor M5S are able to form a government alone. The question is therefore what the third bloc will do," he said.
Commentators said any compromise would be far from easy and would take time, at least until newly-elected lawmakers meet for the first time on March 23.
"The world of Italian politics as we have known it for the last 25 years is over," wrote Corriere della Sera's editor Luciano Fontana.
"Nothing will be as before. The players, and the political landscape of the country have changed," he said.
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