Silvio Berlusconi will seek reelection in 2013, Justice Minister Angelo Alfano -- the man recently identified as the Italian prime minister's political heir -- said on Monday.
At a private dinner with foreign journalists on Tuesday, Berlusconi, 74, told reporters, off the record, that he would not contest the next election, and named Alfano as a possible successor, according to a press leak.
But Alfano, 40, told Italy's Corriere della Serra newspaper that Brlusconi's succession was a "story outline without actors or a plot". "Apart from the fact that it will again be him (Berlusconi) who will be the candidate for the post of prime minister in 2013, the real question is how we will present ourselves" in the election, he added.
Berlusconi was reported as having said, "I could head the list, but I don't want to have an operational role."
Alfano urged fellow members of Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party to put aside internal tensions. "The next 10 years will depend on the way we conduct ourselves over the next two years; a party is a set of values, and the first among them is unity," he said. Alfano said, parliament's adoption, by a wide margin, of a draft law that could cut the duration of trials -- which critics say was designed for the express purpose of saving Berlusconi from his legal woes -- was a victory for the ruling coalition.
"The centre-right obtained, through secret vote, a larger margin of votes than it can officially count upon," he said in a remark that suggested optimism that the coalition will see out its full five year mandate.
Berlusconi, who is also beset by sex scandals, survived two confidence votes last year after the defection of speaker of parliament Gianfranco Fini and around 40 lawmakers from the ruling coalition and has recently managed to strengthen his majority in parliament.
The premier has been plagued by legal woes since coming to power in 1994 and has fought Italy's magistrates tooth and nail to block cases or trials against him.
The latest legislation would bring to an abrupt end the case in which Berlusconi is accused of paying former British lawyer David Mills USD 600,000 to provide false testimony about his business dealings. The trial is due to run until January or February 2012, but if the bill is approved, it would be shut down before sentencing can be carried out.