ROME -- Italy's political gridlock deepened on Wednesday as talks to form a minority government broke down between the center-left leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, and the upstart Five Star Movement, a month after national elections failed to yield a majority.
International investors have intensified their scrutiny of Italy, the euro zone's third-largest economy, since the Cyprus government imposed severe capital controls on depositors after securing a 10 billion-euro (about $12.9 billion) bailout of its banks. The euro dropped to a four-month low against the dollar on Wednesday.
Mr. Bersani said on Wednesday that he would hold more consultations on Thursday and then report to President Giorgio Napolitano on whether he had enough support to cobble together a government. He reiterated that his Democratic Party offered the best chance for change and political stability in Italy, which is facing its own growing economic trouble.
Last Friday, Mr. Napolitano said he would give Mr. Bersani a formal mandate only if he had enough support to win a confidence vote in Parliament. Mr. Bersani's Democratic Party has a majority in the lower house but not in the Senate, and needs a solid majority in both in order to govern.
On Wednesday, the leaders -- or citizens as they prefer to be called -- of the Five Star Movement of the former comedian Beppe Grillo, which soared to third place on an agenda of doing away with politics as usual, rejected Mr. Bersani's request that they support him in a confidence vote in Parliament, even remaining in the opposition.
In those talks, Mr. Bersani said he was ready to face the task of governing Italy -- a job that he said "only an insane person" would want to do at this point.
"I am ready to take on this enormous responsibility and I would ask everyone to take on a little bit of it," he said. "Let us not leave the country without a solution."
However, the ideological differences among a range of smaller parties make it nearly impossible for Mr. Bersani to form a governing coalition.
Mr. Bersani has rebuffed offers from former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's center-right People of Liberty party to form a grand coalition led by a prime minister brought in from outside. But as each day of political stalemate passes, political analysts say that may become the only option.
"Trying to form a government under these conditions is nonsense," said Sergio Fabbrini, the director of the school of government at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome. "The only solution is that President Napolitano names a reputable politician or an outsider to set up a government with economic responsibilities to tackle the dramatic crisis the country is facing, and with institutional responsibilities, such as changing the electoral law and eliminating the bicameral system of the country.
"For three months, a responsible government could do what Parliament was not able to do, and then we go to new elections."
If Mr. Bersani fails to form a government, Mr. Napolitano may choose to appoint an outsider to lead an interim government or a broad coalition. If that fails, then Italy might return to the polls, an option that the leading political parties are hoping to avoid because they fear that the Five Star Movement will surge further.
At the request of the movement -- which has insisted on transparency even as it allows its politicians to speak only through designated representatives -- the consultations with Mr. Bersani on Wednesday were shown on some television networks and streamed live on the Internet.
The party's success came in national elections in which voters punished the austerity policies of Prime Minister Mario Monti, who is now serving in a caretaker capacity until a new government is installed. His yearlong technocratic government helped restore Italy's place on the world stage, but many of those gains have already been eroded.
As the stalemate continues, the difference in borrowing costs between Italy and benchmark German bonds has been rising, putting Italy at greater risk of market speculation. The Italian economy is expected to contract 1 percent this year, according to the Bank of Italy, and unemployment is now beyond 11 percent.
Political commentators say that had Mr. Monti not decided to run for office -- and not fared poorly, winning only about 10 percent of the vote -- he would have been seen as a viable candidate for prime minister or president of the republic, a job that must be filled this spring when Mr. Napolitano's seven-year term ends.
Gaia Pianigiani contributed reportingworld
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.