Italy's new parliament met on Friday for the first time since a deadlocked election in February, amid increasing pressure to seek a way out of an impasse which has left the eurozone's third largest economy without a government.
The centre-left won a majority in the lower house in the election, but failed to snag control of the Senate, and attempts by its leader Pier Luigi Bersani to close a deal with rival parties have so far been unsuccessful.
Bersani has been making overtures to the Internet-based Five Star Movement (M5S), led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, which snapped up huge amounts of protest votes to finish third in the election, behind former premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party.
But the anti-politics Grillo has flatly refused to strike a deal with "those who have destroyed Italy", and Bersani has ruled out an alliance with the centre-right and the scandal-ridden Berlusconi.
Should no accord be found, the country will likely be forced back to the polls.
Former premier Emilio Colombo, a senator for life appointed as a temporary head of the upper chamber, warned Friday against dragging out the stalemate.
Failure to seal a deal "would lead to institutional paralysis with dramatic consequences for the management of the big economic and social problems", he said.
Friday's session is expected to be an opportunity for debate before a vote to elect presidents for the upper and lower houses, who play a key role in the parliamentary agenda.
The main parties are expected to try to stall the process by casting empty ballots in the initial rounds of voting in a bid to force each other to reveal their political cards and buy more time.
The M5S has said it will not engage in tactical voting and will only back its own members.
According to a recent opinion poll, over two-thirds of Italians would prefer the formation of a new government to new elections.