MILAN (AP) -- Premier Mario Monti on Thursday criticized his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi for demonstrating "a certain volatility in judgment" and urged the center left leader to jettison extremists who prevented his government from making more progress on reforms.
Monti has officially dropped his neutral technocratic stance as he seeks a second term at the helm of a coalition of centrist parties in February elections. The trained economist stepped down as head of a government of experts last month after Berlusconi's party withdrew its support, and is heading a caretaker government until the vote.
Monti told an interview with RAI state TV that he entered the political arena with the goal of "transforming Italy into a modern country, to try to bring into politics existing energies that have watched politics from a distance."
A second term, he said, would give him the opportunity to vindicate his policies.
"I would like there to be something like a 'Monti Two' to let Italians see that in my face there is not the wickedness of the taxman," Monti said, adding that he believes his 13-month technical government "did good things for Italy."
His government imposed tax increases and spending cuts to shield Italy from the sovereign debt crisis, measures critics say targeted the weakest parts of society while leaving in place many privileges accorded the political class. But Monti said it also took measures to help families — like making it illegal to fire women for pregnancy — and the economically lagging south, which he said for too long has been mismanaged by throwing money at programs that didn't create jobs or develop the economy.
The election campaign is shaping up into a race between Monti, Berlusconi and the center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, along forces belonging to a movement founded by comic-cum-political agitator Beppe Grillo. Already a senator for life, Monti is not formally running for a seat in Parliament but his harnessing a group of small centrist parties that he said might be called something like "With Monti for Italy."
Berlusconi has harshly criticized Monti's decision to enter the race, saying Monti lacks credibility.
Monti shot back that this "is the judgment of a person who has demonstrated a certain volatility in judgment."
He also took on the center-left's candidate for premier, Bersani, who he urged to show courage to "silence the conservatives in his party" whom he said prevented his government from making more progress on reforms.
"The true challenge is between those who want to preserve existing structures and those who want to innovate a bit more," Monti said.