Italy's Mario Monti rejects Berlusconi party for February vote

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is spurning Silvio Berlusconi's offer to run on a centre-right ticket backed by the media mogul in February elections.

Turns down offer to run on centre-right ticket

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti has raised taxes and passed anti-corruption legislation during his 13 months in office. (Mauro Scrobogna/Lapresse/Associated Press)

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti is spurning Silvio Berlusconi's offer to run on a centre-right ticket backed by the media mogul in February elections.

Mario said on Sunday he would be willing to head the next government if offered the role by political parties that back his measures to ease the country's debt crisis, but when asked by reporters whether he was going to run in the Feb. 24-25 vote, he sidestepped the question, saying he cared more about policies than about the personalities involved in the election.

Monti appeared to rule out heading any election ticket himself, saying "I have no sympathy for personal parties."

"I'm not siding with anyone. I'd like parties and social forces to side with ideas," he said.

Monti made clear he was spurning an offer from his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi to run on a centre-right election ticket backed by the media mogul, citing Berlusconi's heavy criticism of his economic policies and saying, "I have no sympathy for personal parties."

Weeks of speculation have dominated Italian politics and preoccupied Europe, which is eager to see Monti's financial reforms continue.

The caretaker prime minister, an economist who has spent 13 months tasked with trying to right Italy's troubled economy, said Berlusconi's flipping back and forth between condemning the government's economic policies and then praising the prime minister convinced him that "I couldn't accept his offer."

Monti was tapped by Italy's president to lead the country after Berlusconi was forced to resign, having lost the confidence of international markets. Monti stepped down Friday after Berlusconi's party withdrew its support from his technical government, but has been asked stay on in a caretaker capacity in the run-up to February elections.

Other centrist parties in parliament have been urging Monti to run for another stint as prime minister.

"To those forces who demonstrate convincing and credible adherence to [my] agenda, I will be ready to give encouragement, and if necessary, lead" the country, he said.

Monti expressed gratitude to Berlusconi for his backing of key anti-crisis measures, but said "I struggle to understand his line of thought."

"Yesterday, we read that he assessed the work of the [Monti] government to be a complete disaster. A few days earlier I read flattering things," he said.

Berlusconi's ever-changing view 'escapes me'

The logic of Berlusconi's positions "escapes me" and "I couldn't accept his offer," Monti said, drawing chuckles.

Monti praised his government and parliament for its support of spending cuts, new taxes and pension reform that he said had saved Italy from succumbing to the debt crisis.

"Italians as citizens can hold their heads up high in Europe," Monti said, noting Italy had avoided the kind of bailouts that Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus have been forced to take.

Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano dissolved parliament after Monti handed in his resignation following approval of the country's national budget law. Monti noted that as a senator-for-life, he remains in parliament and thus doesn't need to run for a seat in the legislature.

Napolitano set elections two months before their expected date, recognizing that without Berlusconi's support for Monti, it was useless to wait until late April for Italians to go to the ballot box.

Voter opinion polls indicate a centrist ticket backing Monti would take about 15 per cent of the vote, meaning any government headed by him would have to have the support of either of Italy's largest political groupings: the centre-right, led by Berlusconi, or the centre-left, led by Pier Luigi Bersani.