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Italy: Berlusconi spurns Monti TV debate challenge

last update: February 18, 12:15

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Rome, 18 Feb. (AKI) - Italy's ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi has turned down outgoing prime minister Mario Monti's invitation to a televised dual ahead of next week's general election, claiming his 'real' adversary is centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani.

"I have always agreed to take part in TV debates with whoever," Berlusconi said in an interview with Rtl radio.

"In this case, though, it only makes sense between the two [candidates] who can win."

"Monti is desperate because in all probability he won't reach the 10 percent threshold of votes and so won't get into parliament," Berlusconi added.

Bersani's Democratic Party is tipped to take the biggest share of votes in the forthcoming polls on 24-25 February, with Berlusconi's conservative People of Freedom party coming second and Monti's centrists most likely fourth.

It is the first national election since the Berlusconi government collapsed in November 2011 as the country's sovereign debt crisis spiralled out of control and the technocrat government led by Mario Monti, an economics professor and former EU commissioner, was appointed.

Berlusconi on Sunday vowed to "get drunk for the first and last time in my life" if Monti and the centrist political forces backing him in the elections don't get into parliament.

He accused Monti of being a "little economics professor who doesn't understand the economy and spies on it through the keyhole," claims rejected by Monti Monday in an interview with Italy's Rainews channel.

"I have less practical experience of economics than him [Berlusconi] because I am not a businessman but I have seen a great deal more of it than him," Monti stated.

"I imagine he is particularly afraid of a face-off against me," said Monti.

Monti has sought to position himself as a kingmaker by courting both Bersani and the forces backing Berlusconi. Even if Bersani wins the lower house, he will probably need a post- vote alliance with Monti to secure a majority in the Senate, where seats are allocated there on a regional basis.

Bersani had 33.8 percent support in an SWG Institute survey published on 8 February, the day before Italy’s two-week polling blackout began.

That compares with 27.8 percent for Berlusconi, 18.8 percent for anti-establishment comic Beppe Grillo and 13.4 percent for Monti.

Pollsters said 20 percent of voters remained undecided in the final week before the election. The risk is an inconclusive result that denies victory to any and leads to gridlock, requiring a second vote.

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