By Stephen Jewkes
MILAN (Reuters) - Italy's anti-establishment 5-Star party and the main center-left opposition PD are struggling to break a logjam over who could lead a new government as a deadline to avoid early elections draws near.
The two parties kicked off talks on Friday to find common ground for a new government after the ruling coalition of 5-Star and right-wing League collapsed last week, forcing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to resign.
But progress has been slow, held up by wrangling over the name of a leader, and Italian president Sergio Mattarella wants to see real signs of progress before opening a new round of consultations on Tuesday.
Without an agreement on a new coalition, Mattarella is likely name a caretaker government to run the country up to a new vote.
On Sunday, as PD leaders met in Rome to hammer out their program, the 5-Star reiterated its demand that Conte be reinstated as prime minister, drawing the ire of the PD which, reports said, had put forward the name of 5-Star lawmaker Roberto Fico.
A source close to the PD said the party was vexed and upset by the "continuous ultimatums" laid down by 5-Star.
In a press conference later on Sunday, PD leader Nicola Zingaretti said any new government that wanted to be a break with the past also needed a change of personnel. He did not mention Conte by name.
"We will do all we can to find a positive solution that at the moment is not in sight," he said, calling for a meeting with 5-Star on Monday to discuss a common policy platform.
In a statement issued almost simultaneously, 5-Star said the solution to finding a deal lay in Conte being named premier and some of its policies being accepted, including plans to cut the number of lawmakers in parliament.
"THE COUNTRY NEEDS TO MOVE"
"Italy can't wait for the PD. The country needs to move, we can't just stop because of the doubts and strategies of certain people," it said.
Earlier on Sunday a source said Fico was happy where he was as president of Italy's lower house of parliament, signaling his unwillingness to consider any premiership role.
"It looks almost as if the 5-Star is fishing for a no. In any case as of this afternoon an early vote looks slightly more likely," said Lorenzo Pregliasco, head of polling and political analysis firm Youtrend.
5-Star support has slumped over the last year and it does not want a return to the polls, but it has warned the PD that it should not push too hard.
An opinion poll in Sunday's daily Il Sole 24 Ore showed that 16.6% of respondents supported 5-Star, compared to the 32% support it won in last year's general election, while 24% supported the PD.
A deal between 5-Star and the PD would give Italy a more moderate, Europe-friendly government while sending the League into opposition.
The PD has expressed worries 5-Star may be tempted to reopen channels with the League, which has shown signs of regretting its move to scupper the government two weeks ago.
But on Saturday Conte, who has continued to serve in a caretaker capacity, said the "political season" with the League was over and done with.
(Additional reporting by Giselda Vagnoni and Gavin Jones; Editing by Toby Chopra, William Maclean)