By Gavin Jones
ROME (Reuters) - President Sergio Mattarella is consulting a total of 23 parties to help him find a successor to outgoing Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, showing how little progress Italy has made in reducing its political fragmentation.
On Friday and Saturday Mattarella will meet separately with groups that few Italians have even heard of, such as the Thought and Action Party, the Civic Innovators Party and the "Doing!" party.
Moreover, several of the delegations meeting the president in his formal consultations are actually mini-coalitions. The total number of movements in parliament is around 40.
The first group to emerge from the meetings with Mattarella on Friday recounted their encounter in German. They represented the Austrian minority in the South-Tyrol border region.
Italy, with 63 governments in the last 70 years, has been grappling with fragmentation and instability ever since the death of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in 1945.
Until the early 1990s an electoral system of proportional representation (PR) was widely blamed for allowing small parties to prosper, yet since pure PR was scrapped in 1993 the fragmentation has only got worse.
To preserve their existence at elections tiny parties merge into broad coalitions, but then often splinter again and change names and allegiance once the new parliament has been formed.
At the same time single parliamentarians move freely among parties between one election and the next, often changing the make-up of the majority backing the government.
In the first two years of the current parliament some 116 of the 315 senators elected in 2013 swapped political colors.
Renzi's constitutional reform rejected by Italians in Sunday's referendum was aimed at increasing government stability, but critics said one weakness was that it did nothing to prevent this party-swapping.
Renzi's own government was propped up in parliament by center-right splinter groups that abandoned Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party after the last election.
(Editing by Ralph Boulton)