Scheherazade S. Rehman is a professor of international finance/business and international affairs at The George Washington University. You can visit her homepage here and follow her on Twitter @Prof_Rehman.
Most of us (non-Italians) believed, or at least prayed, that the outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti would lead Italy in 2013 in some capacity. Most of us hope that it will be in the capacity of prime minister again. Although this seemed difficult on the surface as Mario Monti is a "senator for life" and cannot technically stand for election, he is allowed to participate in the campaign. If the centrist parties form a coalition large enough to win the election they can invite Mario Monti to be the leader of that coalition, i.e. prime minister. This past Sunday, Monti finally indicated his willingness to be "named leader of a future Italian centrist coalition." But he has made it clear that he is not affiliated with either the left or the right, and not even the center parties. Monti offered his advice to all during the elections and agreed to lead a coalition that will continue to follow his reform/austerity agenda. This enables him to keep his distance from dirty political battles and keep his economist/technocrat/professorial nonpolitical status and image. It also allows him to focus on the reform agenda if he is brought back into office. Professor Monti is playing it very smart, almost like a shrewd politician. Thus the race for Italy's future is on.
Mario Monti resigned on December 21 from the post of Italian technocrat prime minister after serving 13 months beginning November 2011. The resignation was provoked by Silvio Berlusconi (previous Italian prime minister from the center-right party) when Berlusconi withdrew his party's (People of Freedom, known as PDL) support for the Monti technocrat government. It is important to note that Monti had to resign in any case by April 2013 so that Italian general elections could have been held in their normal timeline. Elections are now scheduled for February 24-25 in the new year.
Monti states that his 13 months in office where "…difficult but fascinating…the work we did has made the country what trustworthy…more competitive and attractive to foreign investors… ". As neutral as Monti would like to appear, Berlusconi's antics are clearly fraying his patience. He indicated in Sunday's news conference that he had "…no sympathy for political parties based on personalities ." A bit ironic for us non-Italians since we are rooting for Monti, the technocrat personality, who can keep Italy safe from a Spanish-style financial calamity. Silvio Berlusconi, of course, made his own headlines this past weekend in his distinctive style after a reported divorce settlement off euro 36 million a year for his ex-wife, Veronica Lario was announced—a settlement figure that has most Italian's shaking their heads as they prepare for an austerity ridden New Year's celebration.
Monti is 69 years old, a professor, an economist, and former European Union commissioner. He, in fact, served under the Berlusconi government as a minister in 1994. Monti has urged everyone to continue to make additional reforms in the labor market and institutions. Monti has indicated that he is open to leading a centrist coalition that will be a new third party, a party for "continued reform." Monti has partnered up with Pier Ferdinando Casini, leader of Italy's oldest and largest centrist party, the UDC. It is predicted that this third party may win up to 15 percent of the vote. Thus, in all likelihood, this centrist party coalition will not be able to win the elections without the center-left Democratic Party (PD) led by Pier Luigi Bersani who is currently (according to the polls) slotted to win the most votes in the February general election. Opinion polls show that the center-left PD will win the lower house majority but will, in all probability, have to form a coalition with centrist forces in the Senate. Thus if Monti is to lead the country it will be with the blessing of the PD party. This does mean that Mr. Bresani will have to give up being prime minister if he indeed agrees to this arrangement. To date, everyone is denying a secret accord between Monti and the PD. At an impromptu interview at a train station, 76-year-old billionaire Berlusconi (traveling with his 27 year old fiancée, Francesca Pascale) cried foul and claimed Monti's announcement on Sunday was an attempt to steal votes from the center-right.
Having said all of this, as I stated in an earlier blog this month, it should be noted:
The key problem of pinning hope on Mario Monti running [for office] is that he is a hero outside of Italy, not inside. Austerity measures (spending cuts), tax increases, high unemployment and domestic demand (consumers spending) taking a hit have made him…[unpopular, especially among the unions]…If Monti runs for election, in all probability Italians will not vote him into office. While they all respect Monti for refurbishing Italian credibility they do not like the pain he is causing them.. Monti has started Italy on [a] difficult path paving the way for the next generations of Italians and expectedly so it has been a big strain on pensioners and the youth of today.
February 24-25 is still a long way away. We have to wait and see. Only one thing is for sure, the global stock markets are going to be on a roller coaster ride due to this election. Let's pray the right thing happens for Italy—even the Vatican is supporting Monti's bid as prime minister.
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