Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti during a speech Friday at the Foreign… (Gregorio Borgia, Associated…)
LONDON — Prime Minister Mario Monti, the technocrat who guided Italy through economic turbulence for 13 months after scandal-plagued Silvio Berlusconi left office, resigned Friday to make way for new elections.
Monti, a former economics professor and European Union commissioner, was appointed to the office, with a Cabinet of academics and economists and broad support to bring the country back from the brink of financial disaster.
"A year ago this government was launched, and today — not because of a Maya prophecy — we must bring it to an end," Monti quipped as he spoke to colleagues at an annual reception.
His resignation was provoked in part by Berlusconi's announcements this month that he was withdrawing his center-right Freedom Party's support for Monti's budget reforms and would return to the political arena, leading the party into elections.
Berlusconi's attempt to regain the prime minister's post comes despite his conviction in a corruption case and his ongoing trial on charges of paying for sex with a 17-year-old girl.
Monti's resignation followed Parliament's final approval of the last of his budgetary measures. He and his Cabinet will remain in power as caretakers until the elections, expected in mid-February.
The short run-up to the elections is fraught with questions. Monti, now a senator for life, could seek an active role in the coming government, though he has said that he has no such ambition.
He has not shown his hand yet but recently met with a new group of centrist and pro-European parties. However, such an alliance is expected to command no more than about 15% of an electorate fast losing faith in Monti's austerity cuts, seeing only Italy's rising unemployment and lack of growth.
He is expected to announce his decision Sunday.
The probable favorite in the upcoming election is a left-wing coalition under former communist politician Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the Democratic Party, who is not opposed to Monti's reforms but must answer to powerful labor unions. According to recent polls, Bersani's coalition could attract support from about 30% of the voters.
The dwindling but still strong center-right vote is largely divided between the maverick anti-austerity Five Star Alliance movement led by TV comedian Beppe Grillo and Berlusconi's Freedom Party.
In a meeting with ambassadors Friday morning, Monti said that he thought Italy's standing had improved both economically and internationally in the last year and that he saw "an increase in Italy's authority and credibility on the international scene."
Stobart is a news assistant in The Times' London bureau.