Italy’s technocrat prime minister, Mario Monti, has said in a radio interview he is willing to consider a broad coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s conservatives, provided the former premier isn’t part of it.
Meanwhile, the left-wing Democratic Party continues to rise in the polls. It could win a plurality of the seats in both chambers of parliament.
Monti, a former European commissioner who replaced Berlusconi in November 2011, when Italy appeared to teeter on the brink of sovereign default, said he had “no intention of making any agreement with parties that aren’t strongly reformist.”
Berlusconi’s lackluster policy response to the European sovereign debt crisis was widely seen as responsible for threatening to engulf Italy in it.
However, since Monti enacted austerity measures, including spending cuts but mostly tax increases, as well as labor-market and pension reforms, many Italians have reconsidered.
Berlusconi, who is leading the right-wing Il Popolo della Libertà into next month’s election, has improved his poll numbers by rallying against “German” austerity and the European Central Bank’s unwillingness to finance Italian deficit spending.
On the left, the Euroskeptic Five Star Movement has emerged as a strong contender with a similar massage, although the Democratic Party’s rise has sapped it of its previous 20 percent support. It is down to 12 percent in a recent poll.
Monti, who enjoys the backing of small centrist parties, urged Italians to stay the course. If Berlusconi were to resign, “one could easily imagine a collaboration” with Il Popolo della Libertà, he said. It and the Democratic Party supported his government through last year.
The conservative party’s secretary, Angelino Alfano, seemed appalled by the statement.
“If there is anything that needs to be cleansed from Italy, it is Monti and his caretaker government,” he said.
Il Popolo della Libertà pulled its support from Monti’s cabinet in December, citing a collapse in home sales, negative growth, higher taxes and tepid labor reforms.
Monti felt forced to water down his reforms under pressure from the Democrats and their allies in the trade union movement.
The Democrats are nevertheless in the best position to claim the prime ministership and lead the country’s next coalition government.
A recent Demos survey gives them 35 percent of the seats against 18 percent for Berlusconi and 16 percent for Monti.
The Northern League, which backed Berlusconi’s previous governments, gets 6 percent support in another poll.
Nearly one out of three Italian voters are still undecided. Many of them voted for the conservatives in 2008.