ROME (AP) - Italy's newly elected Parliament was heading toward political gridlock as it convened Friday for the first time after elections gave no party a clear victory.
The normally routine inaugural duty of electing leaders of both houses was locked in a stalemate - auguring badly for the establishment of the stable government needed to keep the eurozone's third-largest economy on a straight fiscal path while introducing growth measures to bring Italy out of recession and get more Italians back to work.
Investors were watching the sessions closely for signs of where Italy was headed. There was more bad financial news as the new deputies and senators held the first round of voting: The bank of Italy said the nation's debt had reached a new record, topping €2 trillion ($2.6 trillion) in January.
Center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani's coalition came in first in Feb. 24-25 elections. While the extra seats given to the top vote-getters guarantees a stable majority of 345 seats in the 630-seat lower house, Bersani has no such margin in the Senate, and a two-thirds majority, or 420 votes, is needed to vote a chamber leader in the first three rounds.
Bersani's lawamkers are expected to file blank ballots in the early rounds.
His attempts in recent days to persuade followers of comic-turned-political leader Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5 Star Movement to cooperate on a leadership strategy failed. The movement, meanwhile, says it will only vote for its own candidates.
Bersani has ruled out an alliance with former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's center-right forces, which finished second.
Acting Senate president Emilio Colombo told the chamber that the political stalemate will hurt Italy's recovery and "could bring us to institutional paralysis, with dramatic consequences on ... the great social and economic problems that torment us."
Both houses were expected to hold two rounds of voting on Friday, continuing on Saturday if no winners emerge. Subsequent voting rounds relax the rules on majority.
Only after leaders are chosen can Italy's president open talks on forming a government, expected next week.
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