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[Newsmaker] 'Monti's exit could cause backfire'

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. (Bloomberg)
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. (Bloomberg)
His resignation may have been what former Italian President Silvio Berlusconi wanted, but the timing of Mario Monti’s resignation may cause his flamboyant evictor some problems.

Berlusconi’s party agreed to pass the 2013 budget but withdrew its support for his government, effectively making Monti’s position untenable.

His resignation means that an election must be held within 70 days ― likely in early February ― rather than in three months as previously scheduled.

Berlusconi now has less time to orchestrate his political comeback, and his popularity is low.

Monti still has respect but the bite of his austerity measures is not liked, and his popularity was at a record low 33 percent when he made the announcement.

This is a long way down from the nearly 75 percent he had when was appointed to replace Berlusconi, whose government resigned in November 2011 amid economic panic.

His non-elected government of technocrats has led an effective regime of austerity, including pension adjustments, spending cuts and tax increases. But for all his success in balancing the books, the economy is in dire straits, with Citigroup forecasting its recession to continue its five-quarter stretch all the way to the end of 2014.

Berlusconi has been strident in his criticism of Monti, saying that he will cut the taxes he claims are strangling the economy. But his vociferousness highlights his need to win back lost support. Berlusconi’s party is polling at less than 20 percent and all likely coalition partners would leave him well short of a majority.

The man expected to win the election ― though not with an outright majority ― is Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the center-left Democratic Party.

But there could be more to come from Monti. He has been unclear on whether he will run himself. Bersani has said his continued political activity would be useful, but that he should not run.

If he did, polls put him level with the Democrats at 35 percent.

No wonder Bersani wants his future involvement limited to an advisory role.

By Paul Kerry (paulkerry@heraldcorp.com)
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