Monti urges debate on Italy election as rivals open fire

Mon Dec 24, 2012 11:03am EST
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By James Mackenzie

ROME (Reuters) - Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti posted his reform agenda online on Monday, urging Italians to join a debate on their country's future as potentially bitter election campaign gets underway two months before Italy goes to polls.

Following weeks of hesitation, Monti declared his availability on Sunday to lead a reform-minded centrist alliance to seek a second term to complete the economic reform program begun when he took office just over a year ago.

The former European Commissioner, appointed at the head of a technocrat government to save Italy from financial crisis, has now thrown off his mantle of neutrality and entered a race that will be dominated by his tough reform agenda.

Even if he confirms his entry into the campaign, Monti appears unlikely at this stage to return to office but his involvement could strengthen a centrist alliance and help shape the agenda of the next government.

The center-left Democratic Party (PD), which has pledged to maintain Monti's broad reform course while giving more help to workers and pensioners and emphasizing growth more, is favored to win but may have to strike a coalition deal with the center.

In an open letter to Italians posted online and accompanied by a 25-page policy program, Monti said he hoped that the agenda would lead to an "open reflection" that would help shape the debate ahead of the election on February 24-25.

He urged a mix of budget rigor and structural reform as well as measures to crack down on corruption and get more women and young people to work.

However the tone of the campaign has inevitably moved away from calm debate and into the murky and sometimes treacherous territory of Italian party politics, where Monti is a novice.   Continued...

Italian caretaker Prime Minister Mario Monti gestures during an end of year news conference in Rome December 23, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi