Monti Says He Won’t Run in Elections, May ‘Guide’ Supporters

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti
Italy needs a “broad” parliamentary majority to defend and extend his economic reforms that must go beyond Italy’s traditional left-right divide, Italian premier Mario Monti said today at a news conference in Rome. Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said he won’t run in the country’s elections in February, though he would consider being the candidate for a coalition backing his economic agenda.

“For the forces that are willing to convincingly and coherently adhere to the Monti agenda, I am ready to give my appreciation, encouragement, and if requested, my guidance and I’d be willing to assume one day, if the circumstances lend themselves to it, the responsibilities that could be bestowed by parliament,” he said yesterday at a press conference in Rome.

In Italy, voters don’t choose a prime minister candidate directly. They cast ballots for a party list or coalition, which picks its premier. So Monti, while not running for Parliament, could still be a designated candidate for prime minister. If a party or coalition backing his agenda asked him to be their candidate, “I would consider it,” he said.

Monti “has made it crystal clear where his political allegiances lie and that he’s ready to head Italy’s next government,” said Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London, in an e-mailed comment. “While he may not have thrown his hat into the ring, Il Professore has become Il Politico whether he likes it or not.”

Confidence Restored

Some among Europe’s political leaders and Italy’s business elite had called on Monti to end his status as a non-partisan independent and run in the elections to safeguard his revamp of the Italian economy. His efforts, including an overhaul of pension and labor laws, helped tame the country’s public finances and restore investor confidence, while deepening the country’s fourth recession since 2001.

Monti used yesterday’s two-hour press conference to defend his 13 months in power, saying he saved Italy from the financial crisis that had pushed the 10-year bond yield to more than 7 percent the week he was sworn in. That measure has fallen by more than 200 basis points to 4.47 percent, while the country’s yield difference with Germany has shrunk to 309 basis points from 518 at the time. The decline in Italy’s risk premium wasn’t just due to the European Central Bank’s backstop, but to investors rewarding the country’s economic reforms, he said.

Italy needs a “broad” parliamentary majority to defend and extend his economic reforms that must go beyond Italy’s traditional left-right divide, the premier said. At the same time, Monti rejected an overture by Silvio Berlusconi. The former prime minister had offered to drop out of the campaign if Monti would lead an alliance of “moderate” forces that would include Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party and the Northern League, one of the fiercest critics of his government.

Practical Decision

Monti is being courted by a group of small parties led by Catholic politician Pier Ferdinando Casini and Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the Ferrari SpA chairman, who formed a new party in an attempt to lure Monti into the race. For Monti, the decision to forgo an election bid may have been based on practical considerations. A Monti-led coalition of those centrist parties would win about 15 percent of the vote, Maurizio Pessato, vice president of polling company SWG SpA, said in an interview.

Montezemolo’s movement was quick to endorse Monti’s remarks, saying in an e-mailed statement it “would proudly support Monti’s agenda.”

Listen Closely

The premier signaled that Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani should consider an alliance with the Casini-Montezemolo forces to form a coalition capable of winning a “broad” majority. The Democrats currently leads in opinion polls, with many surveys putting the party and its allies close to 40 percent. Still, that may not be enough for to win a majority in both houses of Parliament.

“We will listen closely to Monti’s proposals to see where they coincide with ours and where they diverge,” Bersani said in a statement. “As far as the political perspective, from tomorrow it will be for the Italians to decide.”

Monti resigned Dec. 21, paving the way for elections on Feb. 24-25. His decision to step down came after Berlusconi withdrew his support for the government and began to attack the policies that he had endorsed since Monti was appointed prime minister in November of last year. Monti replaced Berlusconi, who stepped down as his majority unraveled and 10-year bond yields topped 7 percent.

Berlusconi’s People of Liberty Party withdrew its support on Dec. 6, a day after the three-time premier announced he would run, reneging on a pledge to stay out of the race.

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