* League says Berlusconi will not be candidate
* Alliance could make future government unstable
* Centre left PD could lose control of Senate
* PD says alliance "disturbing", also criticises Monti
By Barry Moody
ROME, Jan 7 Silvio Berlusconi withdrew as
candidate for Italy's premiership on Monday as the price of a
pact with the devolutionist Northern League that could prevent
the formation of a stable government after next month's
Berlusconi has been striving for weeks to seal the deal with
his estranged former allies to strengthen the centre-right bloc,
under a strategy to stymie the centre-left government that is
expected to emerge from the election on Feb. 24-25.
The League had previously refused a pact because of
rank-and-file opposition to the scandal-plagued Berlusconi being
candidate for prime minister.
The media magnate was driven from office a year ago at the
height of Italy's economic crisis after he was charged with
having sex with an under-age prostitute.
League leader Roberto Maroni confirmed the coalition pact,
telling a news conference it "says explicitly that the candidate
for prime minister will not be Silvio Berlusconi".
"Silvio Berlusconi accepted the request not to stand as
prime minister," he said.
Earlier, in an interview on the Italian radio station RTL,
Berlusconi had left the issue of the premiership in a future
centre-right government open. He said he would prefer to be the
economy minister and that most likely Angelino Alfano, secretary
of his People of Freedom (PDL) party, would be the prime
Berlusconi wanted the alliance with the League to increase
his chance of winning enough seats in the upper house, or
Senate, to make it hard for the next government to pass laws.
Berlusconi said he would remain head of the PDL and the
coalition. "It will be the head of the coalition who would
indicate who will be the prime ministerial candidate if we win,"
said Berlusconi, who had previously insisted he himself would be
Maroni said he liked Alfano but the League's own candidate
for premier would be Giulio Tremonti, who was economy minister
in Berlusconi's last government.
The centre left, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, has been ahead
in opinion polls for months. The latest survey, published on
Sunday, suggested it would win between 38 and 39 percent.
A PDL-League alliance could pull in about 28 percent of the
vote, with a centrist alliance under outgoing premier Mario
Monti on 14-15 percent, the poll indicated.
Bersani said the deal between Berlusconi and the League was
fully expected but was also "disturbing," considering the damage
that he said the alliance between the two parties had done to
Italy over the last decade.
Under Italy's much-criticised electoral law, Bersani is
expected to win a comfortable majority in the lower house.
But in the Senate the distribution of seats is decided on a
regional basis and the populous northern regions led by Lombardy
return more senators.
By allying with the League in its northern strongholds,
Berlusconi hopes to be able to destabilise a centre-left
government in parliament.
In an interview on television channel La 7, Bersani said
Berlusconi and the League were his real adversaries, while Monti
was a "competitor" towards whom he intended to be friendly and
with whom he would be happy to negotiate after the election.
Nonetheless, he said Monti's decision to run in the election
was "not good news for Italians," and that his creation of a
party around his own name, called "With Monti for Italy," was a
recipe for instability.
He also dismissed the idea that Monti could return as prime
minister unless he won the most votes at the election, a
scenario Bersani ruled out.
"We will get a majority both in the Chamber and in the
Senate," he said.
The League wants strict controls on immigration and favours
giving more autonomy to Italy's 20 regions. It wants more tax
revenue to go directly to the regions, saying the rich north is
paying for a south it brands as corrupt and economically
Berlusconi said that under the deal the PDL would support
the League's Maroni as candidate for president of Lombardy in
The former prime minister is awaiting a verdict soon in the
trial in which he is accused of paying an underage prostitute.
Weakened by the scandal, he was forced out of office and
replaced by Monti in November 2011 when Italy tottered on the
edge of a Greek-style debt crisis.
He has become notorious for almost daily changes of
position, which Monti called "bewildering" when he entered the
electoral campaign in December.
Berlusconi's party backed Monti's technocrat government for
a year before precipitating its fall by withdrawing support last
Berlusconi previously suggested Monti could lead the
centre-right but, since the former European Union commissioner
sided with centrists, has launched vitriolic daily attacks on
him especially for his introduction of a widely hated property
Industry Minister Corrado Passera, frequently touted as a
possible election candidate for the centrists before Monti
entered the field, on Monday said Monti's electoral platform was
In an interview with the Corriere della Sera daily, the
former head of Italy's biggest bank also said the outgoing
premier should not have allied himself with two existing