Italy's new parliament on Saturday elected a former human rights official and a former anti-mafia prosecutor as speakers of the lower and upper houses ahead of formal talks on forming a government after inconclusive elections.
Laura Boldrini, who was a spokeswoman in Italy of the United Nations refugee agency, was elected to parliament for the small "Left, Ecology and Freedom" party in a centre-left coalition that failed to win an overall majority in elections.
She has also worked for the UN food agencies in Rome, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and is well-known as a commentator on human rights issues.
Pietro Grasso headed up Italy's anti-mafia agency and put hundreds of mafia members behind bars as a judge before joining parliament this year as a senator for the main centre-left Democratic Party.
In their inauguration speeches, both Boldrini and Grasso underlined the dramatic social cost of Italy's ongoing economic crisis.
"This chamber will have to listen to the social suffering of an entire generation," Boldrini said.
"This country needs quick and efficient answers to the social, economic and political crisis it is enduring," said Grasso, who won the most votes for speaker but did not manage to get a majority of senators to back his candidacy.
Lawmakers needed to elect speakers before talks hosted by President Giorgio Napolitano can be held on how to resolve a deadlock that most analysts warn will mean fresh elections within months.
The talks on trying to form a government will begin on Tuesday.
A general election on February 24-25 failed to produce a clear winner, with the centre-left garnering a majority in the lower house but no coalition snagging the upper house.
Financial markets and European leaders are watching the politicking nervously, with analysts warning that instability in the eurozone's third largest economy could reignite the debt crisis.
A new anti-establishment party that is calling for a referendum on the euro has rejected overtures from centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, who has said he wants to form a minority government reliant on its support in parliament.
The Five Star Movement, led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, who has drawn crowds of Italians fed up with austerity, is the new force in Italian politics.
Napolitano could seek to form a technocratic government similar to the outgoing one led by former European commissioner Mario Monti, although this would likely be a stopgap solution before fresh elections are called.
Monti will remain formally in charge until a new government is created.