The populist's center-right forces trail a center-left coalition in opinion polls before Feb. 24-25 elections. Monti, heading a centrist ticket, trails even farther back, but his forces could prove to hold the key to forming a coalition since no one ticket is expected to get enough seats in Parliament to govern alone.
Berlusconi didn't mention that his Freedom People legislators in Parliament approved nearly all of Monti's austerity measures, including the same property tax he is now vowing to eliminate at his first Cabinet meeting should he be victorious at the ballot box.
With the economy stagnant, unemployment rising and Italians growing weary of sacrifices imposed by the government, Berlusconi withdrew his party's support for Monti late last year, forcing elections to be called about two months ahead of time.
Monti sarcastically commented on Berlusconi's promise to reimburse property owners for the tax paid last year. "He's magnificent," Monti told reporters. "Berlusconi governed for so many years and maintained none, any of his promises," including one to reduce income taxes."What's more, he created many problems, so much so that he had to leave" office, Monti added. While Berlusconi is trying to be elected premier for the fourth time, "Italians have good memories, I believe," Monti said. Berlusconi has been coy on whether he would be premier again should his forces win the election. On Sunday, he added a new twist, saying he would be economy minister, joking that he would hold that post if his top aide "would let him." Front-runner Pier Luigi Bersani has seen a slight drop in support in the polls for his center-left campaign coalition, possibly because of fallout from a widening scandal involving an Italian bank whose board included some backers from his Democratic Left Party. Running third in some polls and ahead of Monti is a comic and political agitator, Beppe Grillo. The same polls have found that roughly a third of eligible voters saying they are either undecided or won't vote.