By James Mackenzie
ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, drafted in unelected to haul Italy from crisis a year ago, said on Sunday that a new government appointed after next year's election would have to keep up his reform agenda to retain the confidence of investors.
Monti, who has kept up a carefully neutral stance about his own role in next year's election, told reporters during a visit to Kuwait that he could not say what would happen after the vote, expected on March 10.
"I cannot offer guarantees for the future. I'd be happy if we could improve the present, as I believe we are doing with the efforts of everyone," Monti said when asked if he had given assurances about the reliability of Italy after he steps down.
He said that whoever leads a government after the election would have to work for "the transformation of Italian society to make it more favorable for growth, openness, justice, the fight against tax evasion and so on".
His comments, to a group of Kuwaiti and Italian journalists, were broadcast on Italian television and were immediately criticized by opponents of his technocrat government.
Nichi Vendola, head of the Left Ecology Freedom party said in a tweet the comment was in bad taste. "A premier shouldn't take shots at the future", he said.
The former European Commissioner's own future has been the subject of growing attention at home and abroad as the date nears for an election that must take place no later than April.
Monti, a Life Senator in the Italian parliament, has said repeatedly that he would be willing to serve again if the elections produce no workable government, but he has avoided committing himself to any party and has said he does not intend to run for election.
Many Italian business leaders have made little secret of the fact that they would like to see Monti return next year, but opinion polls suggest there is little public appetite for a second term.
A civic movement launched on Saturday and led by Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, chairman of sportscar maker Ferrari, has been widely seen as a possible future platform for him.
The congress drew over 6,000 people, and the movement is backed by a disparate cast including Catholics and moderate trade unionists, but its potential electoral appeal is uncertain and Monti himself has so far shown no sign of joining it.
On Saturday he said he had not been asked to make any commitment and was not giving any commitment "today", a remark seized on by Italian newspapers. "Today no, tomorrow, who knows?" said the Corriere della Sera on Sunday.
Monti has been widely credited with restoring Italy's international credibility since he took over from his scandal-tainted predecessor Silvio Berlusconi at the height of the financial crisis a year ago.
Italy's borrowing costs have come down from potentially dangerous levels of more than 7 percent but no-one believes the crisis is over.
Italian politics is in an unusually volatile phase, with the main parties uncertain about who will lead them in next year's ballot and bitterly divided about the type of electoral system under which the vote will be held, probably on March 10.
The picture has also been complicated by the spectacular rise of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement led by comic Beppe Grillo and by repeated protests against the austerity measures imposed by Monti to combat the financial crisis.
The center-left Democratic Party (PD) holds a solid lead in the opinion polls but would probably not have enough votes to govern on its own.
The uncertainty over the election law, which could decisively shape the result depending on any bonus weighting given to the party with the biggest share of the vote, means that the likely shape of the next government remains unclear.
Neither the PD nor Berlusconi's deeply divided center-right People of Freedom (PDL) party, however, has shown any inclination to stand aside in favor of Monti, and both have insisted that the next government should be chosen by voters.
"We have a lot of esteem for Premier Monti, but you can't govern a country without asking the opinion of its citizens," PDL secretary Angelino Alfano said on Sunday.
The PD is expected to choose its candidate for premier at a primary on November 25, while the PDL is still deciding how it will organize the leadership contest.
(Additional reporting by Silvia Westall in Kuwait; Editing by Will Waterman)
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