ROME A businessman spent nearly 100,000 euros on a three-page advertisement in Italy's two largest newspapers on Friday to slam politicians and call for new leadership to end years of decline.
"Our country is like a boat in the middle of the sea, full of holes and about to sink," said the advert in the Corriere della Sera and Repubblica dailies placed by Gabriele Centazzo, chairman of kitchen maker Valcucine SpA.
It called for "a new Italian renaissance" founded on making the most of Italy's creativity, design and artistic heritage.
He told Reuters the advert, including color cartoons and proposals to help Italy's struggling businesses, had cost him slightly less than 100,000 euros ($129,000).
Centazzo, whose company employs 170 workers and has a turnover of 40 million euros, told Reuters he had no political ambitions but wanted to stimulate debate "to make a contribution for my country."
Italy has been in recession since the middle of last year and the slump has been worsened by austerity measures adopted by Prime Minister Mario Monti's technocrat government brought in last November to sort out the country's public finances and stave off a full-blown debt crisis.
The ad recalls a similar initiative almost a year ago by Diego Della Valle, head of luxury shoe maker Tod's, who bought space in major newspapers to attack Italy's politicians just before the collapse of media magnate Silvio Berlusconi's government.
Centazzo told Reuters Italy needed a new political class before elections next spring, and for this reason he approved of a bid by 37-year-old Florence mayor Matteo Renzi to become prime ministerial candidate of the center-left, which currently leads opinion polls.
"But I hope that a young leader also emerges on the other side, right and left don't mean anything anymore," he said.
Widespread disgust with traditional politicians has boosted a populist movement led by Genoese comedian Beppe Grillo.
Some estimates say at least 40 percent of Italians have still not decided how to vote in elections that must be held by April 2013.
Centazzo said he was "grateful" to technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti for helping Italy regain credibility, but his government was too busy plugging the holes in public finances to be able to offer real leadership.
"Italy needs leadership and vision, it needs a dream, but it would be a good idea if whoever wins the next election asked Monti to carry on as finance minister," he said.
Monti, a respected economist, was brought in to replace Berlusconi when Italy came close to a Greek-style financial crisis last November.
With politicians scrambling to regain credit with electors, there is still confusion over which electoral alliances will stand and who will be the candidate for prime minister from the two biggest parties, Berlusconi's PDL and the center-left PD.
(Reporting by Gavin Jones. Editing by Barry Moody and Jane Merriman)