* Monti confirms joining race for Feb. 24-25 election
* Says wants to transcend traditional boundaries
* Berlusconi party says election run helps left
By James Mackenzie and Steve Scherer
ROME, Dec 28 Outgoing Italian Prime Minister
Mario Monti said on Friday he would lead a centrist alliance in
an election in February, ending weeks of speculation over his
political future and confirming his bid for a second term.
The announcement clears up some of the uncertainty hanging
over election and puts Monti in a three-way contest for power
with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which is leading in
the polls, and Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL)
The former European Commissioner, appointed at the head of a
technocrat government last year to save Italy from financial
crisis after Berlusconi stepped down as prime minister, said he
was willing to accept "being named as leader of the coalition".
Monti said the alliance would try to go beyond traditional
political boundaries and unite a broad coalition of political
factions and groups from civil society around a reform agenda
aimed at repairing the deep problems in the Italian economy.
"The traditional left-right split has historic and symbolic
value" for the country, but "it does not highlight the real
alliance that Italy needs - one that focuses on Europe and
reforms", Monti said after a meeting with centrist politicians.
Monti, a favourite with international investors, the
Catholic church and the business establishment, has been widely
credited with restoring Italy's credibility after the
scandal-plagued Berlusconi years.
However ordinary Italians have become increasingly tired of
the mix of tax hikes and spending cuts he has imposed to repair
Italy's battered public finances and an opinion poll suggested
that 61 percent did not want him to run in the election.
Monti, whose status as senator for life means he does not
have to stand for a seat, said the grouping could win a
"significant result" in the election on Feb. 24-25, but there
have also been fears it could lead to a less stable parliament.
Opinion polls suggest the PD, under Pier Luigi Bersani, will
win a comfortable lower house majority but may have to strike a
deal with centrist forces in the Senate, where the centre left
has struggled to gain control in past elections.
The PD, which has pledged to maintain Monti's broad reform
course while putting more emphasis on growth and jobs, has been
sceptical about his candidacy, but has so far maintained a tone
of polite respect for the 69-year-old economics professor.
By contrast, Berlusconi has launched a media blitz against
Monti with a series of angry attacks against his
"Germano-centric" austerity policies, which he blames for
deepening a severe recession and creating record unemployment.
Berlusconi has vowed to scrap a hated property tax,
introduced to help cut the deficit and one of the most notable
symbols of Monti's year in office, and says he would stand up to
German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Angelino Alfano, secretary of his centre-right PDL, accused
Monti of trying to organise a hidden accord with the left.
The centre-left PD, which unveiled Italy's chief anti-mafia
prosecutor Piero Grasso as its latest candidate on Thursday, has
indicated it would be willing to consider an alliance with
However, it has also said that if it was the largest party
in parliament, as polls suggest it will be, it would insist on
naming the prime minister.
Monti said that there would be a single list of candidates,
possibly called "Monti's agenda for Italy", in the upper house,
while he would probably be the prime minister candidate for a
coalition of established parties in the lower house.
He said technical aspects of the electoral law were the
reason for the slightly different groupings in the two houses.
However he also appeared to be giving way to the oldest and
largest centrist party, the UDC, which is close to the church
and which had opposed merging with other smaller parties.