Berlusconi Seeks Sway in Government as President Pick Nears

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told President Giorgio Napolitano he is ready to cooperate with rivals in the formation of a government and said he wants a voice in picking the next president.

“We were and still are open to giving life to a coalition,” Berlusconi, 76, told reporters in Rome today after meeting Napolitano. “We think it’s logical that if we form a government together, a coalition government, then together we must discuss about who will be the best president of the republic.”

Napolitano, 87, is seeking to reconcile rival forces in parliament and pick a leader to replace Prime Minister Mario Monti. The process has been at an impasse since Feb. 24-25 elections left no bloc with a majority in the upper house of parliament.

Napolitano took charge of the negotiations yesterday after Pier Luigi Bersani, head of the biggest parliamentary group, failed to muster a majority. Napolitano’s seven-year term ends in May, and it’s up to lawmakers to select his replacement.

Italy is under pressure to come up with a government capable of halting the recession and protecting the country from Europe’s debt crisis. Italy’s 18-month economic contraction deepened last year as Monti implemented fiscal austerity to cut the deficit and curb bond-market speculation.

Light-years Apart

Luigi Zanda, head of Bersani’s senators, said after Berlusconi’s comments that a government in partnership was unlikely because their respective policy positions were “light-years apart,” newswire Ansa reported.

Italian 10-year bond yields rose 24 basis points to 4.76 percent in the four days ended yesterday on concern that the debt crisis could intensify amid tension in Cyprus. Markets were closed today for a holiday.

Berlusconi, a billionaire, said he didn’t speak with Napolitano about the choice of the next president. He is pushing for a government shared by his forces, the Democratic Party and Monti’s bloc. The next administration must be led by politicians and not so-called technocrats, like the professors and bureaucrats that composed Monti’s cabinet, Berlusconi said.

“Considering the negative and I’d say tragic experience of the technocrats, an absolutely political government” is needed, Berlusconi said. “We’re absolutely ok with the candidacy of Bersani as with other possible candidates.”

Berlusconi finished second to Bersani in the elections last month. Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, the euro-skeptic party, captured a quarter of the votes to place third. Monti, a former university president, came in fourth.

Berlusconi’s Gains

Berlusconi’s standing among voters has improved since the elections, according to a poll distributed today by SWG Institute. Berlusconi’s coalition led with 32.5 percent support among voters, compared with 29.6 percent for Bersani’s bloc, 24.8 percent for Grillo and 8.7 percent for Monti.

Berlusconi’s ally Roberto Maroni, head of the Northern League, accompanied the ex-premier to the presidential palace and said he shared the same views on the government. Maroni reiterated he wouldn’t support a government composed by non-politicians.

“It would be a thousand times better to go to elections,” Maroni told reporters.

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