ROME -- Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, given the job less than a year ago of rescuing Italy from economic crisis, upset the political apple cart Thursday by saying that he would consider continuing as the nation's leader beyond elections planned for next year.
The statement, while couched in conditional terms, was made in New York, where he has been meeting with other world leaders gathered at the United Nations.
Mainstream political leaders, including former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, reacted quickly and coldly, saying that governments are chosen through elections, while Monti’s unelected cabinet was brought in as an interim solution to an emergency situation late last year.
At a briefing at the Council on Foreign Relations, Monti said, "I hope there will be a clear result with a clear possibility for whatever majority to be formed and for a government led by a political leader,” in elections next spring.
But, he added, "should there be circumstances in which they were to believe that I could serve helpfully after that period of elections, I will be there.”
"There must be elections," said Berlusconi, who was forced to resign in November amid sexual scandals and an alarming financial crisis but still the major figure of his People of Liberty Party. He added: "We don't even know how we are going to vote yet," he said, referring to a push from many sectors to change the current electoral law that allows parties rather than voters to choose candidates.
Berlusconi has hinted he may run again for the top government spot but has not yet committed himself.
His rival at the head of the Democratic Party, Pierluigi Bersani, raised similar concerns. “In all modern democracies, elections determine governments,” he said.
Pierferdinando Casini, leader of the centrist parties that support Monti, said of the prime minister: "We need him. I hope Italians vote to keep him in permanent service."
Just 10 months ago, as the failure to implement economic reforms pushed payments on Italy's crushing debt dramatically higher, President Giorgio Napolitano tapped Monti, a respected economist and former European commissioner, to form a government.
The subsequent cabinet of “technicians” was approved reluctantly in parliament by the major political parties, with the understanding that the unelected government had a temporary mandate to shepherd through unpopular austerity measures and structural reforms demanded by the European Union.
Monti has until recently declared he was not interested in continuing in politics and that he considered his job done at the natural end of the legislature in the spring of 2013.
But recent comments to the foreign media, including an enigmatic “I haven’t thought about the future” and then “I won’t be a candidate, I’m already a senator for life” have worried the coalition of strange bedfellows that had been supporting him. They have issued pointed criticisms of the tough measures that have so far had a negative effect on growth and employment.
-- Sarah Delaney
Photo: Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday. Credit: Jason Szenes / EPA