Italy leaning toward a late February poll
Berlusconi will drop bid if Monti contests
Italy’s general election, brought forward by Prime Minister Mario Monti’s decision to resign, is likely to take place on February 24, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said yesterday.
February 24 is “the most suitable” date, Napolitano said in a state-ment, adding that “it is in the interests of the country to avoid prolonging a state of instit-utional uncertainty.”
A previous plan to hold elections earlier in February was scrapped after Napolitano received a letter from Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri which called for more time to organise the vote for Italians living abroad, the statement said.
The election campaign is not set to kick off in earnest until a key budget vote in Parliament, following which Monti is expected to resign.
The Premier was forced to postpone a year-end press conference on Friday at which he was ex-pected to announce his political intentions, as the Senate dragged its feet over the vote on next year’s budget. It is now expected to come today, following which the lower house must give its final approval to the budget.
The main candidates for the election so far are centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani and the colourful Silvio Berlusconi, who is running for a fourth term as prime minister.
Berlusconi, however, has said he is ready to drop his bid if Monti runs.
Monti, a former top Eurocrat installed by Parliament to rescue Italy at the height of the financial crisis, has not declared whether or not he will run.
Some Italian news reports yesterday said that Monti would not run for prime minister in the general election but would give his backing to a broad coalition of centrist parties that have promised to follow his programme.
Monti could still be appointed prime minister after the elections if he is seen as a consensus candidate, since he is a senator-for-life and therefore a permanent member of the legislature without needing to be elected.
European leaders have urged Monti to join the race, seeing his austerity and reforms programme as a key to keeping Italy out of the debt-crisis mire. The Catholic Church and Italy’s main big-business lobby have also encouraged Monti to stay on, viewing him as the guarantor of economic stability.
But while his popularity ratings have remained high, there is growing resentment about the social fallout from some of his austerity measures.