The news this morning is that the electoral pact between Italy’s two largest centre-right groups – Silvio Berlusconi’s “People of Freedom” and the autonomist and anti-immigrant Northern League – supposedly rules out the prospect of Berlusconi becoming prime minister even if, improbably, their coalition were to win a majority in the 24/25 February election.
As quoted by the BBC, Roberto Maroni, the head of the League, said that the pact “says explicitly that the candidate for prime minister will not be Silvio Berlusconi. Silvio Berlusconi accepted the request to not stand as prime minister.”
That sort of voluntary renunciation doesn’t sound much like Berlusconi. On the other hand, a sham renunciation that can be retracted when conditions change sounds a lot like him.
Berlusconi told Italian radio that “The premier will be decided if we win” and suggested that he could serve as finance minister, which – wait for it – “would allow me to demonstrate once again that I have no political ambitions.”
In the wise words of the Duke of Wellington, if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.
The Guardian is liveblogging the reaction to the pact. Not surprisingly the financial markets are unhappy with the prospect of further instability, but I suspect it will end up making very little difference. Maroni and Berlusconi, despite their fraught history, were always likely to work together in some fashion, and even with the pact you’d have to say their chance of denying the centre-left a majority in the lower house is negligible. (Wikipedia tracks the opinion polls.)
The senate, which in Italy has almost equal power, is a somewhat different matter, and it’s possible that there the centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani will have to depend for a majority on the centrist forces grouped around caretaker prime minister Mario Monti (see last week’s post on Monti here). But since relations between Monti and Berlusconi seem to have gone from bad to worse, that probably wouldn’t pose a major problem for him.