Rome

Berlusconi does not rule out being premier again

But League insist ex-premier must respect pact not to be PM

Berlusconi does not rule out being premier again

(see related stories) Rome, February 19 - Silvio Berlusconi said on Tuesday he may become Italian premier, after all, if his centre-right coalition wins the February 24-25 election, having previously said he would not take the helm of government for a fourth time. "First we have to win, then we'll see," Berlusconi told Corriere della Sera when asked about the prospect of him being PM. Berlusconi had said he would be economy minister if his coalition wins, saying this position held more power than premier, and that his People of Freedom (PdL) party's Secretary Angelino Alfano would be prime minister. He claimed that the only power he had as head of government was to set the agenda at cabinet meetings. Northern League leader Roberto Maroni, however, implied that he would not let Berlusconi wriggle out of a pre-election pact made with his party not to become Italian premier. "Silvio Berlusconi will respect the agreement with the League for (the regional vote) in Lombardy and the national elections," Maroni told ANSA. "I'm marking him tightly". Former interior minister Maroni was referring to an electoral pact signed in January in which the League agreed to form an alliance at the national level with the PdL in support for its backing for Maroni's bid to become governor of Lombardy. Maroni has said that the agreement "explicitly stated" that Berlusconi would not be Italian prime minister again. The question of who would be the centre-right's premier candidate looked to be a question of theoretical importance at the time, with the centre right trailing Pier Luigi Bersani's centre left by double figures in the polls. But Berlusconi managed to narrow the gap to under 5% in most polls with an intense media blitz before a pre-election blackout on the publication of opinion surveys kicked in earlier this month. The 76-year-old media magnate said Monday that the centre right had now overtaken the centre left. The centre left dismissed the claim. Berlusconi had said he would retire from front-line politics after being forced to resign in November 2011 when Italy's financial crisis threatened to spiral out of control. He reversed the decision last year, when the PdL were faring particularly badly in the polls, despite the efforts of his heir Alfano. LEAGUE-PDL ALLIANCE 'SOLID FOR THE NORTH Maroni, meanwhile, said his regionalist party's election alliance with the PDL was solid despite grassroots discontent. "The League governs together with the PdL in three regions and 500 local municipalities in the North," Maroni told an ANSA forum. "I can understand the complaints coming from the base, but if the PdL has leprosy and accords are no longer possible the consequence would be to topple all the administrations. "Since this cannot be the case, we have renegotiated an agreement based on the macro-region and (the commitment to leaving) 75% of taxes in the North," he continued. "The alliance exists on the basis of this written agreement and on this basis it is solid and can continue," he concluded. The PdL and Northern League were allies in the last Berlusconi government but parted company when technocrat Mario Monti took over at the height of the euro crisis, with Berlusconi joining a right-left coalition backing the ex-European commissioner which the League opposed. The PdL pulled its support for Monti's 15-month government in December.

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