Italy's head of state has dissolved parliament and opened the
way to a February election, with doubts growing over whether
outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti will participate in what
promises to be a bitter campaign.
Monti resigned on Friday a couple of months ahead of the end
of his term of office, after his technocrat government lost
the support of Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of
Freedom (PDL) party.
For weeks, speculation has swirled over what role Monti will
play in the election, which cabinet confirmed would be held
over two days on February 24-25.
The former European commissioner, appointed to lead an
unelected government to save Italy from financial crisis a
year ago, has faced growing pressure to seek a second term
and earlier this week Italian media widely reported he would
That now seems far less certain, as Monti has had to digest
opinion polls that suggest a centrist group headed by him
would probably come a distant third or even fourth in the
election, expected to be won by the centre-left Democratic
party (PD), led by Pier Luigi Bersani.
"The outcome of the election may well not be all that
favourable and the question is where that would leave his own
credibility and also his reform agenda," a person close to
Monti told Reuters.
Italy's main newspapers reported on Saturday that he was
inclined not to run, partly because of disappointing opinion
polls and partly because of doubts about the quality of the
centrist parties that would be using his name.
Another source familiar with the discussions that have been
going on between Monti and these centrist groups said he was
no longer in direct contact with his potential allies and was
now thinking things through on his own.
"It's very open, Monti's looking at all the possibilities and
thinking," the source said. "The thing is that without him,
the centrist project doesn't make any sense."
Several centrist politicians who had been hoping for Monti's
endorsement appeared almost resigned to going on alone.
"Monti would have given more significance to the initiative
but it doesn't change things," Ferdinando Adornato, a member
of the centrist UDC party told TGCom 24 news television.
"What Bersani and Berlusconi are offering is not enough to
change the situation from what it was before Monti arrived."
European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel
and European Commission President Jose 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
"We underlined the fact that as we're going into elections
with a non-elected, technocrat government, that government,
in the person of the prime minister, should remain outside
the contest," Fabrizio Cicchitto, PDL leader in the lower
house of parliament said after meeting President Giorgio
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 this week showed 61
percent saying he should not stand.
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 told reporters.
Monti, who has kept his cards close to his chest, is expected
to outline his plans at a news conference on Sunday.
Rather than announce his candidacy or endorse a centrist
alliance to run in his name, two options widely touted in
recent days, he may simply present a summary of the reforms
his technocrat government has achieved and those still
"On Sunday, he will probably only present a policy
memorandum, there is unlikely to be any decision on any more
direct involvement in the campaign until after Christmas,"
the second source said.
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 he was considering staying in front-line
It would then be up to the political parties to commit to or
reject the priorities set out.
By 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 opinion polls.