Berlusconi faces tought choice


Friday, February 08, 2013 - Rome—The leader of Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party is facing pressure to ditch his leftist allies and seek a pact with outgoing premier Mario Monti as a resurgent Silvio Berlusconi threatens to spoil an election victory that once seemed assured. With national elections due on February 24-25, Berlusconi’s mix of German-bashing rhetoric and promises to scrap the hated IMU housing tax is causing growing alarm on the centre-left, which has seen its impregnable-seeming opinion poll lead chipped away. Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani has given increasingly explicit signals that he is interested in joining forces with Monti against Berlusconi, who has attacked both with equal vigour on his near-daily television and radio appearances. “I’ve always said I want 51 percent but that I’d be ready to turn to other groups that are against Berlusconi and the Northern League if I had 49 percent and I’m very ready to turn to other groups including Monti’s,” he told RAI state radio. On Thursday, Berlusconi said his own internal polls showed his centre-right alliance with the pro-devolution Northern League party was just 2.4 percentage points behind the centre-left and he repeated he was confident of winning. Most other polls make the difference greater, with a survey on Tuesday from the SWP institute seeing a gap of 5.6 points, but all agree the divide has narrowed since the start of the year. So far, Bersani has rejected suggestions that he could abandon his coalition partner Nichi Vendola, the openly gay head of the small Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) party who has strongly opposed any deal with Monti’s centrist group. But Vendola himself has expressed growing concern that the senior partner in the centre-left coalition could be having second thoughts. Monti himself has fed the speculation, saying that he would not rule out serving as a minister in a reformist government led by another leader but repeating that he would not join an alliance that included Vendola. “If Bersani is interested, as he has declared, then he has to make a choice within his own alliance,” he told reporters at the margins of a conference. For a deal to be struck, the two sides will have to overcome differences which have emerged ever more clearly as the campaign has gone on.—Reuters

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