Mario Monti (69), the technocrat Prime Minister of Italy who has just stepped down, appeared to be hesitating on Sunday whether or not to take the plunge into politics. The sedate economics professor had stepped-in to head a technocratic government after Italy’s political showman Silvio Berlusconi was forced out of office to thunderous applause late last year.
Mr. Monti’s bitter medicine has turned the economy around with 10-year borrowing costs down from over seven per cent to just under four per cent. But it is not evident that many Italians, forced into poverty by his strict cost-cutting and austerity measures, will want to vote for him in elections scheduled for February.
What just might prompt Mr. Monti to throw his hat in the ring is the fact that his bête noire Mr. Berlusconi has announced his desire for office again. Mr. Berlusconi is doing this principally because he would like to stave-off any further prosecution on charges of fraud and tax evasion by obtaining parliamentary immunity.
In a long press conference in Rome on Sunday, Mr. Monti did not announce his official candidature. He did, however, insist on the importance of his programme and said he was prepared to lead forces that showed conviction and adherence to his ideas.
Describing his programme as one that will change Italy, Mr. Monti said: “To the forces that show convinced and credible adherence to to the Monti agenda, I would be ready to give my advice, my encouragement and if necessary leadership”, “It’s a programme for changing Italy and reforming Europe, for a common resolve and commitment and will be my first contribution to an open discussion.” He said the programme would contain an anti-corruption law, a privatisation and liberalisation programme for the economy, and electoral reform.
Mr. Monti is a Life Senator and spent just over a year — 400 days — as the head of the government. President Giorgio Napolitano dissolved Parliament after Mr. Monti’s announcement that he would be resigning once his budget measures were passed. He did so duly on Friday.
During his press conference, Mr. Monti also led a blistering attack against Mr. Berlusconi. He said he was baffled by the contradictory declarations by his rival. “I find it very difficult to follow his thoughts in a linear manner.” Mr. Berlusconi’s right-wing party withdrew support for Mr. Monti’s government, making a fall of the government inevitable. Mr. Berlusconi then announced he would again run for office despite the fact that polls show him winning 14 -16 per cent of the popular vote