PM Mario Monti tries to shake staid image ahead of Italian elections
Agence France-Presse in Rome
Mocked for his long economic lectures and his old fogey clothes, former economics professor turned prime minister Mario Monti is trying to spruce up his image to win voters ahead of elections next month.
The 69-year-old, a former top European commissioner and dean of Italy's prestigious Bocconi University, has upped his firepower with barbs against his rivals and sound bites on his new Twitter account.
Appointed by president and parliament in 2011 to replace the flamboyant Silvio Berlusconi, Monti had never run for elected office before announcing last month that he would lead a coalition of small centrist parties.
The transition from neutral technocratic prime minister charged with resolving Italy's financial crisis to partisan politician has disappointed some of Monti's early supporters.
"From being above the fray, he has become a party man," Eugenio Scalfari, founder of leftist daily La Repubblica, wrote in a scathing editorial last week, entitled "Why Monti disappointed me".
Writing in the same newspaper, columnist Barbara Spinelli said: "The spell is broken. By rising into politics, Monti has come down from his pedestal."
Monti has taken to the airwaves in recent weeks in a bid to soften his austerity message and counter Berlusconi in an endless back-and-forth.
The sparring between Berlusconi and Monti has almost obscured the fact that the clear winner in the polls so far is Pier Luigi Bersani's centre-left Democratic Party, although it may require a coalition to be able to govern.
Berlusconi has lashed out against Monti - referred to by the Italian press simply as Il Professore - accusing him of pushing the country into a painful recession and of increasing taxes.
Monti has hit back, saying that only happened because of the "irresponsible people" who came before him, and promising to lower income taxes even though much of the campaign revolves around a hugely unpopular property tax he has imposed.