Berlusconi pledges 'responsible' opposition

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Associated Press

Posted on February 15, 2014 at 3:02 PM

Updated Sunday, Feb 16 at 5:31 AM

MILAN (AP) — Three-time former Premier Silvio Berlusconi pledged Saturday that his Forza Italia party will be a "responsible opposition" to any new government headed by the Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi, but expressed concern about what he called an "opaque" power grab.

Berlusconi was among the political leaders who met over two days in Rome with Italy's president, who is trying to determine if Renzi has enough support to form a new government after he sidelined outgoing Premier Enrico Letta, a rival Democrat.

President Giorgio Napolitano is not expected to indicate if he will tap Renzi as Italy's next premier before Sunday.

As expected, Berlusconi said his party would remain in the opposition, adding: "Ours will be responsible opposition, as it has always been."

Berlusconi's popularity among center-right voters has ensured his influence on the political scene, despite a ban on holding political office resulting from his tax fraud conviction. As a sign of the awkwardness of his meeting with Napolitano, a small group of anti-Berlusconi protesters gathered outside the president's office.

Berlusconi's support on key legislation, including a long-overdue election law, is likely to be critical to the credibility of any new government, especially since it remains unclear how large of a majority a new coalition will command in Parliament. The leader of one key party — the New Center Right, which supported the Letta government — said it was reserving its final position to see which way the new Renzi government would lean.

Berlusconi also expressed "worry and surprise for this opaque crisis" — a concern shared by other political leaders and commentators.

Stefano Folli, a political commentator for Il Sole 24 Ore, wrote Saturday that Renzi's methods have created some uncertainty about him.

"He has united the Democratic Party leadership, but not public opinion, which needs to better understand what happened," Folli wrote.

Renzi, 39, accelerated his path to the premier's post this week by engineering Letta's resignation through internal party politics, despite having said in the past that he wanted to become premier through a popular election, not backroom deals.

On Saturday, Renzi remained in Florence, where he is mayor. Members of his party who met with Napolitano said he wants to govern through 2018, the end of the parliamentary session. A Renzi government would need to pass confidence votes in Parliament to take office.

The anti-establishment 5 Star Movement and the xenophobic Northern League boycotted this weekend's talks to protest the irregular transition of power that bypassed a vote of confidence in Parliament and what they see as a foregone conclusion to the talks.

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