* Adversaries may have to unite if Italy is to be governable
* Former communist credited with pragmatism
* Vendola and Monti may be forced into coalition
By Steve Scherer and Naomi O'Leary
ROME, Feb 24 Italy's chance of stable government
after elections this weekend may rely on forcing two awkward
partners into coalition: former European Commissioner Mario
Monti and an openly gay leftist he has vowed not to work with.
The mutual sniping between Monti and Nichi Vendola, governor
of the southern region of Puglia, has intensified during the
final weeks of campaigning for elections on Sunday and Monday
and both have declared their visions for Italy "incompatible".
Yet polls indicate the centre-left coalition, in which
Vendola's Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) is the main partner allied
to the larger Democratic Party (PD), may have to join forces
with Monti's centrist group in order to rule.
Monti has called Vendola, whose defence of welfare and
labour rights appeal to traditional left-wingers, an obstacle to
much needed economic reforms and urged PD leader Pier Luigi
Bersani, most likely head of the next government, to drop him.
With his bowl of silver hair and a sleepy expression, the
54-year-old Vendola, has been equally critical of Monti, who
headed a government of technocrats to haul Italy back from
economic collapse after Silvio Berlusconi quit power in 2011.
"Monti's year in government left the country wounded,"
Vendola told foreign reporters in Rome on Thursday. "Austerity
must be loosened to restore necessary oxygen to an economy that
is out of breath."
Sporting a diamond-studded hoop earring, Vendola said Monti
was "not the same" as centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi but
his social agenda was "unsuitable for younger generations".
Monti, a devout Catholic, said last month he was against gay
marriage. Vendola, also a practising Catholic, has long
campaigned for the right of same-sex couples to wed, so he can
marry his boyfriend.
In Italy's socially conservative south, Vendola shocked even
his own party by winning the governorship of Puglia - the heel
of the Italian boot - in 2005. He was re-elected five years
later with a larger share of the vote.
Vendola proudly describes himself as coming from a "Catholic
and communist" southern family, and joined his first communist
organisation at 14.
Critics suggest if Vendola agrees to govern with Monti, he
could hinder the radical reforms that economists say are
necessary to revive Italy's stagnant economy.
Worse, they fear he could follow the footsteps of his
mentor, former communist leader Fausto Bertinotti, who brought
down the centre-left government in 1998.
Some say that is less likely to happen under Vendola as his
carefully cultivated image as an idealist - a sometime poet
whose florid speaking style is edged with a lisp - belies a
A senior official at the Bank of Italy said Vendola governed
Puglia for eight years more "like a Christian Democrat" than a
communist, and the business community has generally praised his
"As governor, I saw in him a pragmatism that, frankly, I did
not expect at all," Domenico Di Paola, the chief manager of
Puglia's airports, which are controlled by the regional
government, told Reuters.
"Before the vote Monti and Vendola have to be enemies," said
Innocenzo Cipolletta, former chief economist for Italy's biggest
business lobby and president of the University of Trento.
"Afterwards, since they are both reasonable people who care
about the good of the country, they will find a way to reach an
Bersani, who signed a joint political programme with Vendola
last year, says he will not drop his coalition partner and will
mediate between Vendola and Monti if an alliance is needed.
"It's useless for people to tell me they won't deal with
Vendola, because for me that is the same as saying they won't
deal with me," Bersani said at a rally in Vendola's home region.
Vendola and Monti may have little choice but to get along.
An inconclusive result could mean the only alternative to
joining forces would be to hold fresh elections.
"Vendola is no fool, and Monti cannot take responsibility
for making the country ungovernable," said Maurizio Pessato,
vice chairman of polling institute SWG.
"They both know if they screw up they will all end up
sitting on their couches at home instead of in parliament."