Italy's confused election campaign has taken another twist, with the outgoing prime minister Mario Monti formally entering the race and the country's respected national anti-mafia prosecutor joining ranks with the centre-left Democratic Party.
Monti told a hastily convened news conference the February 24-25 ballot list would carry the banner "Monti Agenda for Italy" or a similar slogan, even if the ballot wouldn't list him as a candidate. "A new political formation is born," said Monti, who, as a senator-for-life, does not have to run for a parliamentary seat.
Thirteen months ago Monti was appointed premier after his scandal-plagued predecessor Silvio Berlusconi failed to stop Italy from sliding deeper into the euro-zone debt crisis.
He quit earlier this month after Berlusconi pulled his party's support from Monti's technocratic government, but he's continuing in a caretaker role until the election.
For weeks now there has been speculation about whether Monti would run for the job in February, but he has been unwilling to officially campaign as a candidate. He could take on the premiership if asked to by whatever party or coalition wins - including the centrist grouping he announced on Friday. A day earlier, Monti got an even bigger endorsement for his potential candidacy from the Vatican newspaper after winning a not-so-subtle thumbs-up from the pope on Christmas Day.
Almost left behind in the jockeying was Berlusconi, who was on the front pages of Italy's leading daily on Friday for a different reason. Corriere della Sera revealed details of his divorce settlement with his second wife, Veronica Lario, showing that he must pay her €3 million (HK$30.7 million) a month. He gets to keep the house, however.
Leading in the projections with some 30 per cent of the vote is the Democratic Party, which proudly presented prosecutor Pietro Grasso at party headquarters in Rome for his political debut. Grasso choked up as he recounted how his hand trembled a few days ago when he wrote the letter to Italy's order of magistrates in seeking to end his 43-year career fighting organised crime.
He explained his "radical" decision to run for an as yet unidentified office as wanting to leave a better country for his grandson.
Sounding more like a potential justice minister than a mere parliamentary candidate, Grasso said he had a vision of Italy to "be at the service of a country that has reached the maximum of confusion".
Pier Luigi Bersani, the Democratic Party's candidate for premier, looked pleased at having brought Grasso, a figure who's respected on the left and right, into his party. For his part, Grasso did not say exactly what he was running for.
Associated Press, Reuters