Berlusconi says he might bow out to beat the Left
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has said he may not stand in elections next spring and suggested technocrat premier Mario Monti could stay on as head of a centre-right government.
Mr Berlusconi’s move, which revealed his fears that the centre-left would win, indicated he had abandoned hope of leading the centre-right, which is trailing heavily in opinion polls.
Many politicians and analysts saw it as a ploy that merely underlined the weakness of Mr Berlusconi’s badly divided camp and said little about the likelihood of Mr Monti returning post-election.
Mr Monti, 69, has repeatedly said he will not stand for election but would be willing to stay on if there were political deadlock after the polls, due by April.
Mr Berlusconi, 76, said he wanted a coalition able to defeat the centre-left, and was prepared to stand down to gain the support of smaller centrist parties reluctant to join up with his People of Freedom (PDL) party.
“Silvio Berlusconi has always said and continues to say that he is ready to stand aside to allow all moderates to unite in a single force that can face the Left together,” he told his own Canale 5 television network. “I have always wanted the good of the country I love, I have never had any personal ambition.”
He declined to identify a potential leader if he did step aside, but said Mr Monti could lead a centre-right government.
“Absolutely, I would not rule out it being Mario Monti. Ever since I’ve known him, he has always been in the liberal camp, so it could easily be Mario Monti,” he said.
Mr Monti is supported by Italy’s business establishment and has enjoyed international backing for his efforts to rein in Italy’s towering public debt and reform its stagnant economy.
The centre-left backs Mr Monti in parliament but has said the next government should be formed by a democratically elected coalition, objecting to a repeat of Mr Monti’s technocrat administration.
Mr Berlusconi, forced to step down last year amid the financial crisis, has hinted that he plans a return to the political front line but has never clearly confirmed his intentions.
The PDL is split between Berlusconi loyalists and others including centrist supporters of the Monti government who want to create a conventional European centre-right force.
PDL secretary Angelino Alfano on Monday raised the prospect of Mr Berlusconi stepping aside and urged centrist UDC party leader Pier Ferdinando Casini to join a broad alliance to defeat the Left. Mr Casini expressed caution given Mr Berlusconi’s record of U-turns. Gianfranco Fini, a former Berlusconi ally who broke with the PDL, also raised strong doubts. “The divisions that have lacerated the centre-right are the product of strong political disagreements, many of them still current,” said Mr Fini. “They can’t be removed by people stepping down, even if that’s necessary.”
According to an SWG poll last week, the centre-left parties have the support of 41.5 per cent of the Italian electorate, against just under 36 per cent for the centre and centre-right.
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