Italy's Prime Minister Mario Monti poses with supporters at the end of a meeting in Rome February 15, 2013. Photo: Reuters
Rome: Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, an economics professor who has never won an election, says he's aware of his handicap in a campaign dominated by entertainers.
"It would be easy to do better than me as far as empathy goes," Monti said February 6 in an interview televised on La7.
Mr Monti has spent the two-month campaign refining his approach without making headway in opinion polls. He sought advice from David Axelrod, President Barack Obama's campaign strategist, and even adopted a dog on live television. At the same time, three-time Premier Silvio Berlusconi dominated newspaper coverage, and ex-comic Beppe Grillo filled city squares on a nationwide tour.
Italy's Prime Minister Mario Monti speaks during a meeting in Rome February 15, 2013. Photo: Reuters
Mr Monti's "got no sex appeal as a leader," said Nicola Marinelli, who oversees $US180 million at Glendevon King Asset Management in London. "Most people see him as an intellectual and when he talks about the economy, 95 percent of them don't understand what he's saying."
Mr Monti's struggles on the stump haven't eliminated his chances to influence Italy's next government. The appointed premier, who imposed austerity to shield Italy from Europe's debt crisis, was running fourth in opinion surveys on February 8, when Italy's two-week polling blackout began. Still, Mr Monti may get to play kingmaker after the February 24-25 vote.
Mr Monti had 13.4 percent support in a final survey published by SWG Institute, compared with 13.8 percent on January 9. Mr Berlusconi gained 2.5 percentage points to 27.8 percent over the same period, while Mr Grillo rose 2.9 points to 18.8 percent. Poll leader Pier Luigi Bersani, the union-backed Democratic Party candidate, fell 1.1 points to 33.8 percent.
Italy's stagnant economy has handcuffed Mr Monti as a candidate as much as his own inexperience as a politician. The tax increases he implemented helped aggravate a recession that reached six straight quarters in the three months ended December 31. His opponents have promised to ease the fiscal burden and dismantle Mr Monti's legacy.
In the campaign's closing week, Mr Monti has pushed for a televised debate to give himself a forum to rebut the tax-cut appeals of his rivals. His bid was met with silence by Mr Bersani and with derision by Mr Berlusconi, who said it showed weakness. Canale 5, a television network that sought to organise a confrontation, said a debate won't take place.
"I get that Monti is desperate," Mr Berlusconi said Monday in an interview on RTL radio. There is a possibility that the coalition led by Mr Monti "won't even get representation in parliament," Mr Berlusconi said.