Welsh Labour leader Rhodri Morgan says there is still "all to play for" in the assembly despite the growing prospect that his party could lose power.
Liberal Democrats have suspended Labour talks to seek a power-broking deal with Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives.
Lib Dems say they are looking at forming a "robust" assembly government.
Labour, despite being the largest party after the election, could be left out in the cold if the so-called "rainbow coalition" were to go ahead.
But Mr Morgan left smiling after a meeting of his 26-strong Labour group in Cardiff on Friday and said the door was still open.
He told BBC Radio Wales: "I think the important thing is who has got the legitimacy to lead this process and we believe, as by far the largest party, we have to lead that process, but we have got to lead it in a pluralist way because we recognise with 26 seats we can't deliver stable government.
"We don't have a natural right to govern. We have to accept that in the verdict of the electorate on 3 May we got a clip round the ear.
"We know that and that's why we are seeking a partner."
Mr Morgan said: "We are ready for government at any time that the other parties, or an other party, is ready to move forward the election process for first minister.
"It's time really for us to be making it clear that we have a practical programme for government."
The night before, Lib Dem AMs and the Welsh party's national executive met in Llandrindod Wells.
The party's assembly leader Mike German said that they had taken "a very tough decision" to suspend discussions about a coalition with Labour.
"We have given clarity to our position and what we have said is very clearly that we wish to see if we can negotiate a strong and robust three-party government for Wales," he said.
HOW THE ASSEMBLY STANDS
Labour - 26 seats
Plaid Cymru - 15
Conservatives - 12
Liberal Democrats - 6
Independent - 1
"But if we can't do that, obviously we will have to look at other alternatives at the end of it.
"I expect the other parties will also want to move forward on that option but whether they choose to continue to negotiate is another matter."
He said the decision to halt talks with Labour had come as it was "not right to continue negotiations with both sides".
"The discussions I have had with the leaders of both the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru have led me to believe that this is a potential solution to that fresh start which I think the people of Wales want."
Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik, the leader of the Welsh Lib Dems, has defended his decision to be absent from the meeting, which coincided with his appearance on the BBC 1 comedy quiz, Have I Got News For You.
Mr Opik said he had explained to all members of the party that he would not be there, and had worked closely with them so that they knew where he stood.
He said he also said had to be in Parliament on Friday morning to work on a bill, but he would respond to party members if they had an issue with his absence.
Mr Opik said he would be there for Tuesday's meeting and Saturday's special conference.
Mr German said Mr Opik was "very sad" to have missed Thursday's meeting.
No stability pact
An assembly government must be formed within 28 days of the poll to avoid a new election.
On Wednesday, the Conservative group leader in the assembly, Nick Bourne, confirmed he had held talks with Plaid about forming an administration.
He said his party was only interested in a coalition with Plaid and the Lib Dems, ruling out a "stability" pact.
Under a "stability pact" an opposition party agrees to keep an administration in power in return for some of its policies being taken up, but without joining the cabinet.
Plaid said it would decide next week whether to try to lead the assembly government.
Party leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said Plaid was talking to Tories and Lib Dems to see if it could force Labour from office, but stressed that discussions continued with Labour.
Any deal that the Lib Dems make will have to be endorsed by a special party conference on 26 May, which is also the day that Plaid's national council is due to meet.