* Predictions suggest Berlusconi cannot succeed
* Based on regional opinion poll and projections
* Sticking point could be Monti's demand for premiership
By Barry Moody
ROME, Jan 9 Silvio Berlusconi has little chance
of destabilising a centre-left government after Italy's February
election and outgoing premier Mario Monti is the most likely to
become kingmaker, one of Italy's top experts on voting trends
said on Wednesday.
Political scientist Roberto D'Alimonte, a professor at the
Luiss private university in Rome, said the most likely result of
the election was a centre-left government strong enough to rule
alone or in coalition with Monti's centrists.
This prediction may reassure investors worried by the risk
that Berlusconi could play a spoiler role after the election,
returning Italy to the kind of instability that forced his
replacement by Monti in November 201l as Italy careened towards
a Greek-type meltdown.
The centre left of Pier Luigi Bersani, which is well ahead
in opinion polls, is thought certain to win the lower house. But
the real battle will be in the Senate, where seats are decided
on a regional basis.
Berlusconi's strategy, fortified by an electoral pact this
week with the federalist Northern League, is to win enough
Senate seats to prevent Bersani passing legislation.
D'Alimonte said that as things stand this is practically
Using an Ipsos opinion poll published on Tuesday from four
battleground regions in the Senate race, and updated projections
from a previous survey, D'Alimonte put forward 10 different
scenarios in the financial daily Sole 24 Ore.
In only one of these scenarios could Berlusconi play a
blocking role and D'Alimonte said this was highly unlikely.
"This means it is not credible that Berlusconi could play a
decisive role in the Senate. It is Monti who could eventually
hold this position," D'Alimonte said.
Bersani has said his coalition, polling at just short of 40
percent, or more than 10 points ahead of Berlusconi's
centre-right, can win both houses in the Feb 24-25 vote.
However he seemed less certain in a television interview on
Wednesday, and expressed concern that by entering the election
Monti was helping Berlusconi.
"I want to know from Monti who he is fighting against,"
Bersani told Sky Italia, warning the prime minister against
"opening the door to the right," and "pulling the chestnuts out
of the fire" for Berlusconi and the Northern League.
Monti said later on Wednesday that it was premature to
discuss alliances, and he urged the centre left to explain its
approach to aspects of policy on which it seems divided, such as
whether to continue on his reform course after the vote.
"In the election campaign we should focus on the problems,
and alliances will come afterwards," Monti told Radio
BERLUSCONI MEDIA OFFENSIVE
Berlusconi, a skilled political operator and media magnate,
insists he can still win the election by clawing back a large
pool of disillusioned and undecided voters, but this seems
unlikely based on all opinion polls.
He has bombarded the air waves since he returned to the
front line in December and boosted the centre-right's fortunes,
but his coalition is still polling less than 30 percent.
There is one potential obstacle to the idea that Monti would
join a coalition with Bersani. The former European Commissioner
has strongly indicated that his price would be the premiership,
something Bersani rejects out of hand.
However, it seems unlikely that Monti would open the door to
Berlusconi by refusing to form a stable government with Bersani.
D'Alimonte's projections are based on Bersani winning 13 of
Italy's 17 regions and the race being decided in four swing
areas, Lombardy, Veneto, Campania and Sicily.
In what may be even more reassuring to markets, in six of
D'Alimonte's projections Bersani could rule in coalition with
Monti even if his leftwing allies SEL broke away because of
disagreements over economic policy.
In two of the projections the centre-left could rule without
Monti. "It is not in fact to be excluded that the PD-SEL
coalition could win all 17 regions and then the support of
Monti's list would not be strictly indispensable," D'Alimonte
Berlusconi's only chance is if he can prevent Monti's
coalition from crossing the eight percent threshold needed to
enter the Senate, which seems out of reach since his group is
polling about 15 percent.
The rivalry between the two men explains both their blitz of
television appearances over recent weeks and the way in which
they are concentrating their fire on each other.
Bersani's centre-left says that regardless of the result it
would seek support from the centrists, which is seen as a way of
reassuring European partners worried that Italy could lurch to
the left and undo Monti's achievements in restoring Italy's
credibility after the scandal-plagued Berlusconi's exit a year
Bersani's deputy, Enrico Letta, told reporters on Wednesday
that their first dialogue after the vote would be with Monti.
"If we win, we will ask Monti's supporters in the centre to
support the Bersani government," he said.
Bersani vows to stick to Monti's fiscal rigour but to
distribute the economic pain more fairly and pursue growth.
Monti, who has rapidly thrown off his technocrat clothes and
dived into campaigning since he announced his candidacy after
Christmas, accused Berlusconi on Tuesday of pushing Italy
towards a "precipice" before he was forced out in 2011.