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December 27, 2012 6:19 pm
Silvio Berlusconi was granted 30 minutes of controversial airtime on Italian state television to attack his election rivals as polls showed him running neck and neck with a centrist alliance expected to be led by Mario Monti, his technocrat successor as prime minister.
Repeating his promise to abolish an unpopular property tax imposed by Mr Monti, Mr Berlusconi on Thursday accused the economics professor of understanding “nothing” about the nation’s accounting while pursuing recessionary policies that amounted to “medieval blood-letting” of a sick patient.
With snap elections just two months away that threaten to result in a highly fragmented parliament, Mr Berlusconi is demonstrating he is still a force to be reckoned with, waging his sixth campaign in nearly 20 years despite his ongoing trials on charges of tax fraud, abuse of office and exploiting an underage prostitute.
Accusing German banks of dumping Italian debt in a “conspiracy” to force him to resign last year, the 76-year-old billionaire said his new “media marathon” was boosting him in the polls. He cited a Euromedia survey giving his centre-right People of Liberty 20 per cent of the vote, a rise of some six points since he confirmed his attempted comeback three weeks ago.
This would put him level with an as yet hypothetical centrist alliance led by Mr Monti which, according to the Ipsos polling agency, is also on 20 per cent, up some five points from polls earlier this month.
The centre-left Democrats, polling just over 30 per cent, have seen their lead eroding, with wavering “moderate” voters apparently concerned that the party is lurching back towards its leftist roots.
Mr Monti, who resigned last Friday but remains caretaker prime minister, has not confirmed he will shed his neutrality as an appointed technocrat to join the race. However, endorsement by centrist groups of his 25-page manifesto to “change Italy and reform Europe” has raised expectations that he will soon declare his hand.
Piero Ichino, a senator who broke ranks with the Democrats to join the centrists, said he expected Mr Monti’s name to head an electoral list.
There would be a single alliance list of candidates for the senate, Mr Ichino said, but possibly more than one list for the lower house, which has a lower threshold of entry. Reflecting concerns that discredited “old guard” politicians would try to ride on Mr Monti’s coat-tails, Mr Ichino said the prime minister would screen the lists.
Andrea Romano, head of the Italia Futura think-tank set up as a political vehicle by businessman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, said it was possible that their pro-Monti list would contain only figures from civil society, while Pier Ferdinando Casini’s Catholic UDC party would run a separate list of politicians.
Mr Berlusconi’s half-hour appearance on Rai, the state broadcaster – following numerous interventions on channels he owns – drew protests from other parties. Rai replied that it would guarantee equal air time to all, as set out by law.
Pier Luigi Bersani, Democratic party leader and front-runner to head the next government, has held back from confronting Mr Monti head on. Mr Bersani has sought to allay concerns voiced across Europe over instability in Italy, saying he would be open to a coalition with the centrists, though his room for manoeuvre is constrained by opposition to such a move from his bedrock leftwing supporters.
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