ROME Mario Monti, bidding for a second term as Italy's prime minister, said on Thursday a left-wing party on track to lead the next government should sideline "extreme" elements who hinder vital economic reforms.
The 69-year-old former European Commissioner was appointed in November 2011 to lead an unelected right-left government of experts to save Italy from financial crisis after then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi quit.
On Friday, he turned against his former allies and entered a three-way race against the Democratic Party (PD) on the left and Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) on the right. The election is scheduled for February 24-25.
Opinion polls suggest PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani's center-left, two-party coalition is most likely to form a government, either alone or in alliance with other groups.
Bersani's pro-European stance makes him the most likely ally for Monti's centrist bloc after the vote should the PD not win a solid majority in both houses of parliament.
"If (Bersani) wants a PD and a left that truly watches out for the needs of workers and acts dynamically to create job possibilities, then he should, with an act of courage, silence a little this wing that I consider conservative," Monti told the Uno Mattina program on state television.
Monti said PD economic adviser Stefano Fassina and Nichi Vendola - head of the PD coalition ally Left, Ecology, and Freedom party - espoused the over-protective labor policies of the left-wing labor union CGIL.
Monti has blamed the CGIL and a minority of PD supporters for blocking more radical labor market changes that he had wanted to introduce with his reform last year.
"I'll never shut anyone up," Bersani shot back after meeting with his party rival, Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, who Bersani defeated in a primary vote last year.
"The courage that is being asked of me I've already demonstrated, and it wasn't used to shut people up, but to make them participate," Bersani said, referring to the primary that crowned him the center-left leader.
Susanna Camusso, head of the CGIL, replied that Monti did not understand the country nor the desperate conditions of workers.
A poll published on Wednesday said Monti's grouping would win 12 percent of the vote. One published last week said it could gain up to 16 percent, depriving rivals of a clear win, but not enough to govern.
Under a complex electoral law, Bersani's coalition could win a comfortable majority in the lower house without taking secure command of the Senate, possibly making an alliance with Monti's bloc crucial to creating a stable parliamentary majority.
Monti also said Berlusconi's PDL had caved to pressure from lobbyists, especially the pharmacy sector, and had watered down an effort by his government to deregulate services.
Kicking off his political campaign on Wednesday, Monti pledged to cut labor taxes and redistribute wealth from the richest to the poorest if he wins.
That was a shift from his role doling out painful austerity to Italians to shore up public finances.
(Editing by Naomi O'Leary and Tom Pfeiffer)