Monti's reform path faces test beyond Italy elections
By James Mackenzie
ROME (Reuters) - Mario Monti declared "mission accomplished" when he resigned as Italy's prime minister, having seen off the debt crisis that loomed as he took office just over a year ago but 2013 will test whether he has laid the foundations for lasting economic change.
Elections on February 24-25 will give Italian voters their first chance to decide whether they want to stick to the broad course he has set or turn to a growing chorus of politicians who have attacked his austerity medicine.
Monti's decision to enter the race himself has put his reform agenda at the heart of the campaign and will have effects far outside Italy, the euro zone's third-largest economy, which took the single currency to the brink of collapse last year.
Former European Commissioner Monti, favored by the markets, the business establishment and even the Catholic church, has insisted that the election must be about creating agreement on policy rather than on any individual.
In that sense, the true test of his success may be not whether he wins a second term but whether he has succeeded in convincing the other parties and the country as a whole to stay with the liberalizing agenda he has laid out.
That remains uncertain, despite the plaudits he earned abroad for his handling of the crisis, as ordinary Italians have seen their living standards fall and unemployment rise relentlessly.
The centre-left Democratic Party (PD), the favorites to win the election, have supported Monti in parliament and say they will maintain the broad course he has set, while putting more emphasis on growth and helping workers and the poor.
But some on the left of the party and among its trade union allies say inequality has risen under Monti. Continued...