Silvio Berlusconi (pictured) has made a deal to join forces with his one-time coalition partner the Northern League – but only on the condition that he will not become prime minister if they win next month's general election.
"An agreement has been signed," Mr Berlusconi told RTL television, after weeks of uncertainty over whether his People of Freedom (PDL) party could heal a rift with the League to run together in battleground regions in the north of the country.
Roberto Maroni, the League leader, said: "The agreement says that Silvio Berlusconi is the head of the coalition, but it says explicitly that the candidate for premier will not be Silvio Berlusconi. I want to express my satisfaction and appreciation to Silvio Berlusconi for this gesture."
Just hours after the announcement, Mr Berlusconi said: "I am the leader of the coalition and I will decide with the other parties involved, in the case of a victory, who will be the candidate for prime minister."
He added that he preferred his party secretary and former justice minister, Angelino Alfano. But Mr Maroni said later: "Mr Alfano is a person who I esteem. . . but since (Mr Berlusconi) indicated that person, I would like to take the opportunity to indicate a different candidate for premier: Minister Tremonti."
Mr Tremonti was minister of economy and finance in several of Mr Berlusconi's previous administrations.
Mr Berlusconi said he would be willing to be finance minister if his party won.
Mr Maroni acknowledged the forced political marriage had given many of his party faithful "a stomach ache", but said it was the only political strategy that would produce a win.
According to the 'Corriere della Sera', polls show the PDL- Northern League coalition still lags behind the centre-Left, but could gain 26-28pc of the vote, with Mario Monti – the technocrat prime minister whose resignation last month triggered the election – on 14-15pc.
The PDL and League were allied until Mr Berlusconi's downfall in 2011, when the three-time premier was ousted during a financial crisis and replaced by Mr Monti. (© Daily Telegraph, London)