Silvio Berlusconi insisted on Sunday he won't be premier again if his conservative party, now trailing in opinion polls, wins Italian elections next month.
The media mogul told an interviewer on Sky TG24 TV that his political heir and former justice minister, Angelino Alfano, is his choice to head Italy's next government. For months, Berlusconi has been coy about whether he wants a fourth term as premier. "If we win, the premier will be Angelino Alfano," Berlusconi said.
Front-runner in polls testing sentiment for the Feb. 24-25 elections is center-left leader, Pier Luigi Bersani. But it appears unlikely he'll win enough votes to govern alone.
A potential coalition partner is caretaker Premier Mario Monti, who is heading a centrist ticket and trailing both Bersani and Berlusconi in polls.
Monti, an internationally respected economist, was appointed in late 2011 to replace Berlusconi, who resigned as Italy risked succumbing to the Eurozone debt crisis. Bersani proved to be one of Monti's staunchest allies in Parliament, backing him on pension and labor reforms. Those measures, including raising the retirement age and making it easier to fire workers, were bitterly opposed by Italy's unions, traditional allies of the political left.
Milan daily Corriere della Sera, whose editor-in-chief interviewed Monti for Sunday's edition, said that the outgoing premier was considering modifying some of the labor reforms. Asked about reports that he might soften the measure that made it easier to fire workers, Monti would only say that "for now, nothing had been decided."
In the interview, Monti said his candidacy tapped into the public's "intolerance" with the ruling class. On Sunday, during an appearance in the northern city of Bergamo, Monti presented his candidates for parliamentary seats, including many neophytes to politics, such as mid-level businessmen and leaders of volunteer groups.
Also presenting a slate pitching to citizen disgust over politics, corruption and incompetence is Beppe Grillo, a strident comic and political agitator whose "Five Star" movement, like Monti's grouping, is another fresh phenomenon in national elections. Polls indicate the comic's bid to win over those disenchanted with mainstream politics could make a strong showing.
Berlusconi is among political leaders scrambling to line up "clean" candidates for the elections, eliminating from the ballot politicians who are under investigation or have lower-court convictions for corruption or ties with organized crime. A former executive in Berlusconi's media empire, Marcello Dell'Utri, who has been convicted in Sicily of Mafia association, told Sky TG24 Sunday he was honoring Berlusconi's request not to run again for the Senate.
While Berlusconi is scrutinizing candidates' respectability, he himself is running to keep his seat in Parliament despite a recent tax fraud conviction.
Berlusconi claims that the many criminal probes and trials that have been brought against him over the last 20 years stem from a plot by magistrates he contends sympathize with the left, and he has proclaimed his innocence in all cases. Among the more sensational cases is his current trial in Milan in which he is charged with paying for sex with an underage prostitute and then trying to cover it up.