Monti to resign once budget is passed

Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister announced on Saturday that he would resign once the 2013 budget is approved, potentially bringing forward an election and fuelling speculation that he might run.

The surprise declaration came two days after Silvio Berlusconi’s party withdrew parliamentary support for the government and hours after Berlusconi said he would run to become premier for a fifth time.

Parliament is already poised to pass the budget by Christmas, and so Monti’s resignation probably brings the expected vote forward by no more than a month to February. Elections must follow no more than 70 days after Giorgio Napolitano, the president, dissolves parliament.

Monti’s move turns the tables on Berlusconi, who seemed to have once again seized an opportunity to keep his party in the political game just a year after being forced to resign amid a sex scandal and a debt crisis.

Berlusconi could now be forced into an election earlier than expected with his divided party trailing in polls behind the centre-left and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.

Monti’s announcement will also increase speculation he could be eyeing a run as a candidate in the election. At a conference in France earlier, he appeared to take aim at Berlusconi, warning against “populism”. He said Italy should not go back to where it was when he took over a year ago.

Following a meeting with Napolitano, he warned that not approving the budget “would render more serious the government crisis, also at a European level”, and said after it is approved, his resignation would be “irrevocable”.

Leaders of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party and also the Democratic Party said they were willing to accelerate the passage of the budget. “Faced with the irresponsibility of the right that betrayed a commitment it made a year ago before the whole country... Monti responded with an act of dignity that we profoundly respect,” said PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani.

“We are ready to approve the budget in the fastest possible manner.”

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