Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi confirmed on Wednesday he would resign after implementing urgent economic reforms demanded by the European Union, and said Italy must then hold an election, in which he would not stand.
President Giorgio Napolitano will now have to decide whether to call new elections or whether to ask another leader to try to form a new government.
Here are some of the names being suggested as potential successors.
If Napolitano chose a candidate who reflects the center-right majority produced by the 2008 election, Berlusconi’s cabinet undersecretary, Letta, would be among frontrunners. Smooth and reserved, the 76-year-old Letta is seen as Berlusconi’s right hand man and one of the ultimate backstage fixers of Italian politics. He is widely respected but may face opposition from leaders of other parties who have said they will not back a government led by a figure so close to the Berlusconi camp. Letta graduated in law and has a background in journalism. Often mentioned by Berlusconi as a possible president of the republic.
Previously identified by Berlusconi as a favored successor, the 41-year-old Sicilian is currently secretary general of the PDL party, after stepping down as justice minister in July. Dismissed by critics as a Berlusconi acolyte who has happily backed the prime minister’s war against the judiciary and magistrates, he has few loyalists of his own in a party built entirely around its founder. Youthful by Italian standards, Alfano became the youngest justice minister in Italy’s history when he took the post in May 2008. Soon afterwards, he crafted a law sheltering Berlusconi from trials that was later scrapped by the Constitutional Court.
Widely seen as favorite to lead a technocrat government with a mandate to push through economic reforms. A distinguished economist and former European competition commissioner, 68-year-old Monti is currently the president of Milan’s Bocconi university and honorary president of Bruegel, a European economic policy think-tank he set up in 2005. Has contributed a stream of newspaper articles over the past months criticizing Berlusconi and proposing sweeping reforms of Italy’s hidebound economy.
Other key players
Italy’s head of state is guarantor of national unity and the constitution. When a government is defeated or resigns, it’s the president’s duty to consult party leaders and appoint a new leader to try to build a majority in parliament. Italy’s most respected political leader, the 86-year-old former communist Napolitano has made repeated calls for reform in recent months as Italy’s debt crisis and political turmoil have deepened and he has been increasingly open about the possibility of a broad-based government of national unity.
The fiery leader of Berlusconi’s key ally the Northern League called on Berlusconi to step aside on Tuesday and let Alfano take over as prime minister. He could play a crucial role in deciding the shape of the new government, based on whether he is willing to re-form a coalition with the PDL. As Berlusconi’s support has crumbled, his relations with the League have cooled, hitting a low point over a plan to reform pensions, much of which the League fiercely opposes.
Pier Ferdinando Casini
The leader of the centrist UDC party could play a critical role based on whether he supports a newly formed government. He has said he wants a broad unity government to be formed including representatives from the main opposition Democratic Party PD, the UDC and Berlusconi’s PDL party.
Luca Cordero Di Montezemolo
The 64-year-old boss of Ferrari has become an increasingly outspoken critic of the Berlusconi government and has urged fundamental reforms in Italy. He founded the Italia Futura association of business and cultural leaders in 2009 aimed at encouraging civil debate and political renewal in Italy. He has been identified in the media as a possible future leader of the country but has kept quiet when asked about possible political forays.
The former head of Italy’s largest bank Unicredit is another senior business leader who could have a role in a future caretaker government.