Italian business greets prospect of 2nd Monti term

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By COLLEEN BARRY, Associated Press

MILAN (AP) — Italian business and church leaders on Friday warmed to the prospect that Premier Mario Monti might stay on for a second term, while politicians insisted the post must return to a political leader.

The head of the Confindustria business lobby Giorgio Squinzi said the primary concern was having a "solid, trustworthy government with credible people and that has a political base." He said Friday that a second Monti mandate "is one of the possibilities."

Monti hinted Thursday he could stay on for a second term under the right circumstances. Italy is heading to elections next spring, and experts say the failure of any party to win a clear majority could clear the way for another Monti mandate.

Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, speaking from the Paris Auto Show, said a continuation of Monti's administration "would be a step forward for the country," lending credibility and removing uncertainty.

Avvenire, the influential newspaper of the Italian Catholic bishops' conference, called Monti's declaration "a useful step, another service to the country" and a "strong signal to the parties in a moment of maximum loss of credibility in the political system."

Monsignor Mariano Crociata, secretary-general of the Italian Episcopal Conference, said "we favor any solution that could bring an adequate and speedy resolution to the crisis."

Monti is a devout Roman Catholic and has met with Pope Benedict XVI on numerous occasions since taking office.

Monti was tapped last November to head a government of experts to steer the country from financial disaster. His government has passed a raft of reforms aimed at cutting spending and waste and increasing competitiveness of the economy by weakening professional castes and streamlining bureaucracy. His nonpartisan standing has made it possible to get Italy's divisive politicians to back the measures.

He also has burnished Italy's image abroad, and has won the trust of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama.

Monti has made it clear he will not run for office as it would only weaken his ability to push through reforms, and would only accept a second term only if asked by the parties after elections. In that case, the government is likely to be comprised of politicians in Cabinet posts, instead of experts in the current technical government.

Most politicians, including former Premier Silvio Berlusconi and the head of the Democratic Party Pierluigi Bersani, have remained firm that when the technical government's mandate expires in the spring, politics will take over.

The situation that favors a second Monti government would be the failure of any party to win a clear majority, "which is not unlikely," said James Walston, professor of political science at the American University of Rome.

A poll published this weekend in Corriere della Sera showed that about half of Italians — disenchanted with persistent political scandals — were undecided and planned not to vote.

If the major three parties split the vote and were forced by the election outcome to form a grand coalition, "that is a scenario that favors a second Monti term," said Roberto D'Alimonte, a political science professor at Rome's LUISS University.

The outcome will be influenced by a new electoral law that is being held up by disagreements over what percentage of a bonus the top-vote winner will get in an effort to solidify a majority in Parliament.

D'Alimonte also suggested that the markets could also force Italy's hand, if borrowing costs on Italy's enormous debt pile grow — particularly in the period after elections when a government is formed.

"The markets vote, too, not just Italian voters," D'Alimonte said. "This is a time of mixed sovereignty.'

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