ROME (AFP) - Leftist leader Pier Luigi Bersani, scrambling to secure enough support to form a government in recession-hit Italy, said on Wednesday that only a mentally ill person would want the top job.
His comment came during last-minute talks with political parties before time runs out for the centre-left leader, who was asked formally by Italy's president last week to try to forge a coalition but has been unable to strike a deal with his rivals.
"Only a mentally ill person could have an itching desire to govern right now," Mr Bersani said during talks with the anti-politics 5-Star movement, which he has repeatedly tried - and failed - to woo.
"I want things to be clear: I am ready to assume a huge amount of responsibility, but I ask everyone else to all take on a little bit themselves," he said.
Milan's FTSE MIB index was down 1.51 per cent after Mr Bersani's comments.
Mr Bersani has hoped to persuade individual members of other parties to give their support, proposing a limited programme of urgently-needed reforms in exchange for their backing at a confidence vote.
Proposals on the table include a cut in taxes and expenses of political parties, and a reform to the complicated electoral law which has been blamed for landing the parties in the current crisis.
On Wednesday, the 5-Star said it refused to back the former Communist and ruled out Mr Bersani's chances of taking some votes from within the movement, which it said acted as one body.
"I deny that there are any dissidents in the movement, and our group will vote a unanimous 'no' to Bersani," said Mr Vito Crimi, head of the 5-Star in the upper house.
The parties have been at loggerheads since a February 24-25 vote which saw the centre-left win by a whisker but without the majority in the upper house necessary to govern.
The battle to form a government for the austerity-laden country with very high unemployment rates has begun to wear on the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which is split over whether Mr Bersani should carry on as party leader.
The down-to-earth leftist chieftain has constantly ruled out overcoming the stalemate by working together with former premier Silvio Berlusconi and the centre-right, but there are those within his party who think allying with the enemy would be better than returning to the ballots.
Scandal-hit Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PDL) hit out at Mr Bersani on Tuesday, warning him to take the offer to form a coalition government with them or all future deals would be off the table.
Any government is unlikely to last more than a few months or a year at most, analysts say.
Mr Bersani is expected to meet President Giorgio Napolitano on Thursday to present his plan for a government. If Mr Napolitano is not convinced, Mr Bersani could be stripped of his mandate to govern, and the president could put in place an interim technocrat government to carry out key reforms.