Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has formed an alliance with the Northern League ahead of next month's elections, a move that puts an end to his previously stated plan to run for the premiership.
League leader Roberto Maroni confirmed the coalition pact on Monday, telling a news conference it "says explicitly that the candidate for prime minister will not be Silvio Berlusconi".
"Silvio Berlusconi accepted the request not to stand as prime minister," he said.
Earlier, in an interview on the Italian radio station RTL, scandal-plagued Berlusconi said he would prefer to be the economy minister
The 76-year-old was convicted just months ago of tax fraud and likely facing two criminal verdicts in the coming weeks.
Still, opinion polls have seen his conservative party gaining since he pulled its support for Prime Minister Mario Monti's technical government last month.
The February 24-25 national election is shaping up into a race with Monti in the centre, Berlusconi to the right and Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani on the left, along with a movement founded by political agitator Beppe Grillo.
The conservative coalition has been polling second to Bersani's centre-left forces.
'I am the leader'
While the Northern League has ruled in coalition with Berlusconi three times, the relationship has been rocky at best - with the League being behind the downfall of previous Berlusconi governments.
The markets have expressed a lack of confidence in his ability to reform Italy's economy.
Italy's extraordinary high public debt is the second highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the 17-nation eurozone after Greece. Monti, an economist, came in to shore up Italy's finances and launch economic reforms.
His spending cuts and tax increases have brought down borrowing costs but they have also pushed Italy into recession. Monti resigned last month after Berlusconi withdrew his support and is running a caretaker government until the national vote.
Berlusconi said it was still not clear whom the centre-right coalition would back to run as premier, saying one possible candidate was Angelino Alfano, the leader of Berlusconi's People of Freedom party.
The Northern League, however, was pushing for former Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti.
Berlusconi did not acknowledge that some Northern League members were reluctant to back him for the post.
"I am the leader of the coalition and I will decide with the other parties involved, in the case of victory, who to propose ... for premier,'' the billionaire media mogul said.
Berlusconi has for weeks been toying with a run for a fourth term.
He has come out strongly against Monti's unpopular decision to impose a property tax on first homes and has been voicing opposition to any moves by Air France to increase its stake in Alitalia.
Berlusconi could see verdicts in two criminal cases before the election, including the sensational sex scandal in which he is accused of paying an underage Moroccan teen for sex and then trying to cover it up.
That trial has been slowed by the failure of the Moroccan teen, Karima el-Mahroug, to show to testify. She has been vacationing in Mexico instead. The court has fined her and ordered her to appear on January 14.