A CISE preelection survey published in the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore on Sunday found the country’s left-wing leader Pier Luigi Bersani in the lead to win the premiership. Incumbent technocrat Mario Monti, who announced on Friday that he will stand in February’s election representing a coalition of centrist parties, came in second with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in third place.
Berlusconi, who hopes to return to government for a fourth time, has managed boost support for his right-wing Il Popolo della Libertà in recent weeks with a fierce anti-German campaign and overtaken comic Beppe Grillo’s Euroskeptic Five Star movement as third party in the polls. Many Italians blame Germany for the austerity measures that Monti has imposed on them.
On Saturday, the former premier accused Monti, who replaced him in November of last year when Italy teetered on the brink of sovereign bankruptcy, of plotting with the left but centrist leaders denied an accord. “Our initiative was not born with the support of the PD,” said Pier Ferdinando Casini, head of the Christian Democrats, referring to Bersani’s Partito Democratico. “Until election day what’s important is aiming for the majority.”
Even if the left wins a majority in the lower house of parliament, Bersani will likely need the support of centrist parties in the Senate to form a government. Both the Partito Democratico and Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà backed Monti’s economic and fiscal reform efforts in the last year until the latter withdrew its support from the technocrat’s cabinet in early December. The left has pledged to continue Monti’s program but with a stronger emphasis on job growth. Berlusconi has promised to scrap an unpopular property tax and threatened to leave the European single currency union unless Germany responds to Italian demands.
“Either Germany understands that the ECB must act as a real central bank and therefore print money or unfortunately we will be forced to leave the euro and return to our currency,” he said in a television interview two weeks ago.
Few Italians want to leave the eurozone but just as few want to continue the austerity program of the Monti government, even if in terms of liberalizing the economy it has been markedly lackluster. The former European commissioner has shrunk the deficit by raising taxes and reducing spending, particularly subsidies to local governments, but proposed labor market reforms were watered down under pressure from the left while attempts to liberalize industries met fierce resistance from entrenched business interests.
Monti nevertheless enjoys the support of the business community as well as the nation’s Catholic church. Berlusconi’s support is strongest in the south which has long been the poorest part of the country.