Parliament dissolved as Italy set for election

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ITALY’s president has dissolved parliament following the resignation of prime minister Mario Monti, formally setting the stage for general elections in February in which Monti’s participation remains unclear.

President Giorgio Napolitano signed the decree yesterday after consulting with political leaders.

Monti, appointed 13 months ago to steer Italy from a Greek-style debt crisis, stepped down on Friday after ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s party withdrew its support for his “technical” government.

He is expected to announce today whether he will run for office. Small centrist parties have been courting Monti, but Italian newspapers say he is inclined to refuse. Polls indicate the centre-left Democratic Party will win the vote.

A Monti-led ticket could deprive the Democrats of votes, but would not be expected to garner anything near a majority.

European leaders including German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso have called for Monti’s economic reform agenda to continue but Italy’s two main parties insist he should stay out of the race.

Italians are weary of repeated tax hikes and spending cuts and opinion polls offer little evidence they are ready to give Monti a second term.

A survey last week showed 61 per cent believed he should not stand.

Centre-right leader Berlusconi, who was forced to make way for Monti in November last year as Italian borrowing costs surged, has stepped up attacks on his successor in recent days and welcomed his resignation on Friday.

“Today the experience of the technical government is finished and we must hope there will never again be a similar suspension of democracy,” he said.

Monti is today likely to present a summary of the reforms his technocrat government made and those still required, according to a source.

This would put flesh on the rather nebulous “Monti agenda” which has been a buzz-word of 
Italy’s political debate since it became clear Monti was considering remaining in frontline politics.

It would then be up to the political parties to commit to or reject the priorities set out.

By essentially playing for time, Monti would run less risk of being caught up in the crossfire of what promises to be a messy and bitter campaign and would still be free to step into the fray later on, depending on the state of opinion polls.