Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said he will lead a coalition of centrist political parties that support his agenda of fiscal rigor and pro-European policies in February elections, marking a de-facto bid for a second term.
Monti’s announcement, made at an impromptu press conference in Rome yesterday, takes his political role in the upcoming vote a step further after the former European commissioner said Dec. 23 that he would consider leading a group of parties supporting his agenda.
“A new political movement is being formed,” Monti told reporters in Rome. The 69-year-old economist is heading a coalition that includes small parties led by Catholic politician Pier Ferdinando Casini and Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the Ferrari SpA chairman, who formed a new movement in an attempt to lure Monti into the race.
Several European political leaders and Italy’s business elite have 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 and sapping his popular support.
“Mr. Monti’s decision to run for office is a bold and risk-strewn move which shakes up Italy’s political landscape yet presages a more fragmented parliament,” Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London, said in a note to clients after the announcement.
A Monti coalition could eat into support for both the Democratic Party, which leads in opinion polls, and Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party on the right. The decision “sets the stage for a potentially divisive election campaign centered around Mr. Monti’s economic agenda,” Spiro wrote.
The Democratic Party had the support of more than 30 percent of potential voters in a Dec. 21 poll by SWG Institute, while Berlusconi’s backing was about 16 percent. A hypothetical Monti-led coalition had support of about 15 percent. The Five-Star Movement of comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, drew 18.5 percent. Grillo, who is capitalizing on growing public anger of rising taxes and joblessness under Monti, released a 16-point platform this week that calls for a referendum on remaining in the euro.
The prime minister said he was sure his coalition could score a “significant result” in the election scheduled for Feb. 24 and 25.
Monti said that his allies will present a single list of candidates in the Senate, a move that could help him win enough seats in the upper house to influence the formation of a new government.
Italian election law makes it more difficult to win a majority in the Senate than in the Chamber of Deputies because it gives more weight to parties that have a strong regional base. Polls signal that while the Democratic Party will probably win as majority in the Chamber, it may fall short in the Senate. Monti’s senators could prove the key to forming a new government, even if he loses the election.
Monti didn’t present himself as a candidate for premier, unlike Berlusconi and Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the Democratic Party. Still, if his coalition wins the elections he would probably be appointed prime minister.
In Italy votes are not cast directly for a candidate for premier. The country’s president generally asks the leader of the coalition or party winning the most votes to try to form a government.
Monti doesn’t need to run on a list for Parliament as he was appointed a senator-for-life by President Giorgio Napolitano last year before being asked to lead a government of non-politicians, following Berlusconi’s resignation in November 2011.
Bersani, designated as the candidate for a coalition of left-of-center parties in a primary contest, is a former industry minister who began his political career in the Communist Party, and his primary victory was grounded in support from Italy’s biggest union.
The Democratic Party backed the Monti government, and Bersani has pledged to respect the budget commitments taken with the European Union while promising to do more to support pensioners and workers. His party supports only some of the measures included in Monti’s political road map, he said Dec. 26.
Bersani “is likely to come under more pressure internally to distance himself from Mr. Monti’s liberal economic program,” Spiro wrote.
Monti’s political road map, designed to make Italy more competitive, includes measures to boost female employment, further efforts to open up closed professions and measures to battle conflicts of interest and corruption.