ROME Dec 9 Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti's
decision to resign before the end of his mandate has opened the
prospect of two months of campaigning before an election now
expected to take place in February.
Here are answers to some of the questions thrown up by the
announcement, which capped three days of political tension in
Rome triggered when former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
withdrew the support of his party in parliament.
DOES THIS MEAN THAT MONTI WILL NOW RUN IN THE ELECTION?
That is so far unknown. He has previously said he would not
stand but potential allies among the smaller centrist groups
note he has not definitely closed the door on the idea either.
Even if he is not a candidate, he could act as patron to a
centrist grouping and campaign on a pro-European Union, economic
He has said he will be available if no stable government can
be formed. Many also expect that, regardless of whether he
stands, he will play some role after the elections, possibly as
president or even as a finance minister in a pro-reform
government headed by a politician.
WHAT IS THE LIKELY RESULT OF THE ELECTION?
At this stage, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) has a
strong advantage and its leader Pier Luigi Bersani is the most
likely new prime minister.
The PD is riding high in opinion polls which suggest it
could gain more than 30 percent of the vote, ahead of the
anti-establishment comic Beppe Grillo's 5-Star Movement, the
wild card in the game, which is polling around 20 percent.
Silvio Berlusconi's struggling centre-right People of
Freedom (PDL) is deeply divided and risks defections from
several high-profile members who supported Monti. It is at
around 15 percent in polls.
The new centrist movement founded by Ferrari chairman Luca
Cordero di Montezemolo, which is often seen as a possible
vehicle for Monti, is polling at around 2 percent, though that
could change if the current prime minister decided to run.
WILL THE PD BE ABLE TO FORM A STABLE PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY?
Italy's election law gives the largest party in the lower
house an automatic 54 percent majority, regardless of whether it
wins a majority of votes, so the PD looks likely to win
Things are more complicated in the Senate, where there are
separate contests in each of the 17 main regions as well as
three other smaller territories.
This has made it difficult for the left in past elections
because of its traditional weakness in the richer and more
populous north of the country where there are more Senate seats.
Much will depend on whether the PDL can revive its old
alliance with the regionalist Northern League and win the vital
northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto as well as in its
traditional heartland of Sicily.
"Just like the United States had battleground states such as
Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin, Italy's battleground regions will
be Lombardy, Veneto and Sicily," says Roberto D'Alimonte, a
professor of politics at the University of Luiss in Rome and
Italy's leading expert on electoral systems.
If Berlusconi can unite his badly-divided camp, he could
hope to do well enough in the Senate to prevent the PD from
getting legislation through parliament easily, which could
shorten the life of any centre-left government.
WHAT ISSUES WILL THE ELECTION BE FOUGHT ON?
Berlusconi's attacks on Monti suggest voters will face a
choice between pro-European candidates like Bersani on the
centre and centre-left and an anti-Monti front running from
Berlusconi to Grillo, who wants a referendum on the euro.
The PD says it will stick to Monti's budget commitments to
Italy's European partners while putting more emphasis on jobs
and growth and softening the impact of austerity measures on
workers, a big priority for its allies in the union movement.
Berlusconi says Monti is in thrall to German Chancellor
Angela Merkel and has dragged Italy into recession with his
austerity policies. He pledges to cut taxes and in particular
scrap a deeply unpopular housing tax that is central to Monti's
deficit cutting plans.
Grillo, a fiery critic of both Monti's austerity policies
and Berlusconi's scandals, has also pushed the privileges of the
political class to the forefront and tapped deep public anger
over the crisis and Italy's leaders which may be difficult to
WHAT CHALLENGES WILL THE NEXT GOVERNMENT FACE?
The next government must convince international financial
markets that it is serious about controlling public finances and
getting Italy's stagnant economy moving again, otherwise last
year's financial crisis will return.
At the same time, it must reassure an Italian public weary
of tax hikes and spending cuts that its sacrifice is worthwhile
by creating jobs, restoring prosperity and gradually lowering
the tax burden or it will risk seeing social tensions rise.