Monti Resigns as Premier of Italy, but May Run Again

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ROME -- Prime Minister Mario Monti resigned on Friday evening following Parliament's confidence vote on the 2013 budget, but he is still expected to play a major role in early elections, possibly as a candidate, analysts said.

At a news conference scheduled for Sunday, Mr. Monti is expected to present a political agenda -- pro-Europe, pro-reform, pro-fiscal rigor -- and call on all parties to endorse it, aides said Friday.

Mr. Monti, an economist who has helped restore Italy's international credibility but has suffered politically for championing a series of tax increases and budget cuts, has steadfastly refused to say whether he will run as a candidate or present an agenda that he hopes parties will endorse. Whether he does run or not, however, he has already radically shifted Italy's political landscape.

With Italy facing economic uncertainty and sluggish growth, Mr. Monti has emerged as a centrist force in a field previously divided between the center-left Democratic Party of Pier Luigi Bersani, which opinion polls place first, and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has risen in polls since taking to the airwaves with a vocal populist message critical of Mr. Monti's tax increases.

"He's de facto a candidate. He is the head politician of this coalition," said Stefano Folli, a columnist for the business daily Il Sole 24 Ore, referring to a centrist grouping that has been courting Mr. Monti.

On Friday evening, Mr. Monti handed in his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano, who in a tough speech to lawmakers last week lamented the "brusque" end of the government and Parliament's failure to carry out significant structural changes in Italy's encrusted economy.

Mr. Napolitano is soon expected to dissolve Parliament, opening a chaotic, hard-fought campaign amid rising unemployment, taxes and populism. Mr. Monti will stay on as caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed. During that time, he is expected to retain the power to pass emergency legislation.

"He's already a senator for life, so he doesn't have to become a candidate in the technical way," Mr. Folli added.

After losing the support of Mr. Berlusconi's People of Liberty party earlier this month, Mr. Monti said that he would step down after the budget was passed. On Friday, lawmakers voted 373 in favor and 67 against with 15 abstentions for the budget, which stipulates spending cuts of $4.8 billion through 2015.

Mr. Monti could run as a candidate or endorse a centrist alliance that includes a veteran political party, the Union of Christian Democrats, and Toward the Third Republic, a fledgling civic movement led by the chairman of Ferrari, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo. If Mr. Monti lends his name to the centrists, he is expected to draw moderates from Mr. Berlusconi's party.

Mr. Monti also has the implicit support of the Catholic Church, which is crucial to the survival of any Italian government.

After weeks of wavering, Mr. Monti seems to have decided to stay involved in Italian politics at the urging of other European leaders, analysts say. Concerned about the prospect of an increasingly populist Mr. Berlusconi, they have urged him to stay in the picture.

Last week, members of the European People's Party, a group of center-right parties across Europe, asked the unelected Mr. Monti to attend a summit in Brussels, which Mr. Berlusconi attended as the head of Italy's largest center-right party. "I can say that there was massive support from E.P.P. members that Monti should remain at the helm of Italy," said Kostas Sasmatzoglou, the group's spokesman.

"It was Europe pushing him to continue," Mr. Folli, the columnist, said. "Germany already has Hollande," he said, referring to France's Socialist prime minister, François Hollande. "It doesn't want another country to go to the left, to go back on fiscal rigor."

He added: "It can have Bersani, but Bersani 'corrected' and supported by Monti."

Indeed, Mr. Monti and the centrist groupings are not expected to get more than 15 percent of the vote. Mr. Bersani's Democratic Party is expected to place first, but without enough votes to govern in both houses even if it allies with the smaller Left Ecology and Freedom party, a far from certain pairing. It remains to be seen if the center will take votes away from Mr. Berlusconi or Mr. Bersani.

On Thursday, Mr. Monti was widely perceived to have begun his campaign with a politically calculated speech at a Fiat automotive plant in southern Italy. With Fiat chairman Sergio Marchionne by his side, he said that Italy needed to stay the course on structural changes. The speech effectively challenged Mr. Bersani, a moderate who will most likely have to tack further left.

Mr. Monti came to power in November 2011, replacing Mr. Berlusconi amid global financial panic. He helped burnish Italy's image abroad, but effectively raised taxes, worsening Italy's recession. Although populists have depicted Mr. Monti and his government as a puppet of Europe and the banks, many Italians support him as a needed change from politics as usual.

"I prefer Monti to Berlusconi or any other politician, even if he left us in our underwear," said Annalisa di Piero, 50, a costume designer and stylist, referring to the tax increases that have left Italians with less in their pockets in the holiday shopping season. "I just paid my property tax, but I still prefer him to these other clowns."

Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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