Though he has yet to join the race, Italy’s outgoing technocrat premier Mario Monti has now been warned by left and right alike not to stand in upcoming elections, reflecting fear from more established pols that the post-partisan icon might siphon moderate voters away from their coalitions.
Monti has been offering campaign-style rhetoric, defending his painful — and unpopular — austerity measures by arguing they have restored Italy’s financial stability and credibility, which most neutral observers agree to be patently obvious. But he’s so far held back from shedding his above-the-fray image, perhaps hoping to become president, a more symbolic position, when a new government is formed early next year.
Certainly, the obstacles to his candidacy would be immense. He’s never formally waded into the swampland that is an Italian election campaign. Berlusconi’s substantial wealth — including ownership of a multitude of media outlets — guarantees him a platform to make his case for a fifth term. The center-left, on the other hand, has a healthy lead in most public polls. Monti, already less-than-beloved by the public, would be in for extended attacks on the airwaves and in speeches should he jump in. He’s especially vulnerable to populist jabs at his new taxes (and his cozy relationship with foreign investors and other E.U. nations).
Berlusconi is unlikely to win an outright victory, still plagued as he is by scandal, including a case — to be decided in 2013 — over allegations that he paid an underage woman for sex. But he seems nonetheless intent on playing the role of spoiler in an election that until a week ago was certain to bring victory to the left.
Monti’s entry into the race would complete his transformation from economist to politician, and could be incredibly frustrating for the major political parties — if also music to the ears of Europe’s financial elite. Unfortunately for the would-be candidate, their expressions of support may not add up to all that much at the ballot box.