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Italian PM job ‘only for mentally ill’

AFP-JIJI

Italian center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani said Wednesday that only a mentally ill person would want Italy’s top job as he raced to secure enough support to form a government in the recession-hit country.

Bersani, who was asked by the president last week to try forging a coalition to break the political deadlock, has been unable to strike a deal with his rivals.

“Only a mentally ill person could have an itching desire to govern right now,” Bersani said during talks with the antipolitics Five Star movement, which he has repeatedly tried — and failed — to woo. “I want things to be clear: I am ready to assume a huge amount of responsibility, but I ask everyone else to all take on a little bit themselves.”

Business leaders and trade unions sounded the alarm this week over the parlous state of the eurozone’s third-largest economy. Italy is suffering its longest recession in 20 years, which has hit young people particularly hard and sent unemployment soaring to almost 39 percent in January. The economy projected to shrink 1.3 percent this year.

“It is clear that the political instability is not helping,” said Marcello Messori, economics professor at Luiss University in Rome. He said he was “very concerned” that the country’s economic health is being neglected as Italy’s politicians wrangle.

Bersani has hoped to persuade individual members of other parties to lend support by proposing a limited program of urgently needed reforms in exchange for their backing at a confidence vote. Proposals on the table include reductions in taxes and the expenses of political parties, and a reform of the complicated electoral law that has been blamed for creating the current crisis.

On Wednesday, the Five Star group said it refused to back the former communist and ruled out his chances of drawing votes from the movement, which it said is acting as one body.

The parties have been at loggerheads since a vote from Feb. 24 to 25 saw the center left win by a whisker but without the upper house majority needed to govern.

The battle to form a government has begun to wear on the center-left Democratic Party, which is split over whether Bersani should carry on as leader.

Bersani has constantly ruled out working together with former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the center right, but there are those within his party who think allying with the enemy would be better than returning to the polls.

Scandal-hit Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party hit out at Bersani on Tuesday, warning him to form a coalition government with it or risk all future deals being taken off the table.