Thursday, October 25, 2012
Berlusconi confirms will not run in 2013 Italy election
By James Mackenzie
ROME (Reuters) - Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi confirmed on Wednesday he would not lead his People of Freedom (PDL) party in next year's Italian election and called for a primary to decide the centre-right candidate.
The 76-year-old media magnate said this month he might not stand if withdrawing his candidacy could help centrist and centre-right parties come together to form a "moderate" bloc.
But his statement on Wednesday went further.
"I will not stand stand for premier again but I remain at the side of younger people who can play and score goals," said the owner of AC Milan football club who quit as prime minister in November during a mounting financial crisis.
"I still have good muscles and some good sense but my role will be to give advice."
The flamboyant Berlusconi, whose reported "bunga bunga" parties won worldwide notoriety, has taken a largely backseat role in politics since he was forced to step down, but he remains the dominant figure within the PDL.
However, an opinion poll last month gave him just 18 percent personal support among the wider public, well behind former justice minister Angelino Alfano who celebrates his 42nd birthday next week.
Alfano is the favourite to take the centre-right into the election, which must be held no later than April, although other candidates are likely to emerge.
Berlusconi suggested December 16 as a suitable date for the primary, a few weeks after centre-left parties hold a primary of their own on November 25 to choose a candidate for prime minister.
The financial crisis facing Italy has eased in recent weeks but markets have been watching closely for signs of what government might emerge after technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti stands down.
The political situation remains exceptionally confused, with the main parties unable to agree even on the electoral law that will govern the ballot, but opinion polls suggest the centre-right will struggle.
A survey from the SWG institute last week put PDL support at 14.3 percent, behind the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) on 25.9 and the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement of comic Beppe Grillo on 21.
Monti sought to ease fears of instability after the election, saying Italy's partners should "please relax".
He said whatever government came after his own would have to respect the commitments Italy has made with the European Union.
Monti has won considerable international credibility since taking over from Berlusconi, but Italy remains in deep recession with the economy expected to contract 2.4 percent this year.