ROME  - Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi revived his historic alliance with the far-right Northern League on Monday and stepped back from his leadership bid in a deal to shore up support ahead of February elections. “An agreement has been signed,” 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. “Berlusconi is head of the coalition and while there is no candidate yet for premiership, I can explicitly say it will not be Berlusconi,” the League’s head Roberto Maroni said at a press conference on Monday.

Italy’s complex electoral system means that the PDL needs the League onside to scoop up key votes in the north, while the eurosceptic northern party has been hit hard by fraud scandals and was unlikely to survive without the PDL. “It is a forced marriage. Both parties would have been in trouble without this coalition,” said Franco Pavoncello, politics professor at the John Cabot University in Rome. The deal could see the left, led by cigar-chomping Communist Luigi Bersani, win a strong majority in the lower house of parliament but crucially give the PDL and League a majority in the Senate, should the vote in the north be split. “Given the electoral system, the pact was inevitable,” said James Walston from the American University in Rome. But he added: “Strategically, the deal doesn’t make sense because the parties hate each other. They have different agendas and different points of view.”  Talks between the PDL and the League in recent weeks have been tense.