Italy’s Berlusconi, Separatists Seal Electoral Alliance

The former Italian prime minister maintains his coalition with the separatist Lega Nord.

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is welcomed at the headquarters of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, France, March 27, 2010
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is welcomed at the headquarters of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, France, March 27, 2010 (OECD/Benjamin Renout)

Italy’s conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi announced on Monday that his party had struck an election deal with the separatist Lega Nord, his coalition partner in previous right-wing governments.

The septuagenarian former prime minister, who leads the Il Popolo della Libertà into February’s election, did not give many details of the accord in a radio interview but said that he would be the “leader of moderates” in a right-wing coalition. He also said he wasn’t sure whether he would return as premier. “We will decide if we win,” said the man who led Italy for more than nine years, adding that he would prefer to be the economy minister.

Under the terms of the agreement, Berlusconi’s party will support Lega Nord leader Roberto Maroni’s candidacy for the regional presidency of Lombardy in the north of Italy. The Lega seeks enhanced autonomy and ultimately independence for the wealthier northern part of the country.

“I think it’s completely insane and suicidal for the League to go it alone,” Berlusconi said in a television interview before the alliance was sealed. If the coalition on the right is broken, he warned, the regional governments in Piedmont and Veneto could go to the left. In those provinces, Lega Nord and Il Popolo della Libertà, in combination with other conservatives in the former, command majorities in the regional legislatures.

Berlusconi’s alliance with Lega Nord could pull in 28 percent of the vote, according to a recent ISPO poll. On its own, the former prime minister’s conservative party gets between 17 and 19 percent support, up from 13 to 16 percent last month.

Left-wing leader Pier Luigi Bersani is still likely to become prime minister after next month’s election. His Partito Democratico gets up to a third of the votes in the ISPO poll. The left-wing bloc as a whole is at 39 percent.

That may be enough to secure a majority in the lower chamber of parliament but probably not the Senate. The centrist parties that have committed themselves to incumbent prime minister Mario Monti, a former European commissioner who replaced Berlusconi a year ago, win some 15 percent in recent polls, enough to make them kingmakers in the upper chamber.