Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti has described his predecessor Silvio Berlusconi as a "buffoon" as the heat is turned up on the country's political debate just over a week before its elections.
In an unusually blunt statement, Monti launched an unprecedented attack against his political opponent on Rai Tre television.
"It hurts me to hear some buffoon saying they left Italy in good condition in 2011 and that it was me who brought it to the edge of the abyss," he said.
Berlusconi dismissed his opponent as desperate. Monti's Scelta Civica (Civic Choice) party has lost ground in opinion polls and therefore resorted to "this kind of nonsense comment", the former prime minister said.
Monti's government of unelected technocrats was appointed by President Giorgio Napolitano in November 2011 when Berlusconi was forced to resign amid the growing economic crisis.
Berlusconi maintains that Italy was better off when he was in government, saying that severe austerity measures, implemented by Monti, a former economics professor and European commissioner, have not managed to stave off the country's debt crisis.
"Monti has very little understanding of economics," Berlusconi said.
"He brought us into a terrible recession with three million unemployed. He is a little professor - he used to watch the economy through the keyhole."
Short-term macroeconomic data has given some credence to Berlusconi's claims. Italy's central bank expects GDP to fall 1 percent in 2013 on 2012, while the National Statistical Institute warned that unemployment was on the way to reaching a 10-year of peak of 12 percent in 2014.
Italian voters are to cast their ballots on 24-25 February.
According to a recent poll by Sole/Ipsos the left-leaning coalition headed by Democratic Party candidate Pier Luigi Bersani is ahead with 35 percent.
Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PDL) and its allies are second (28.3 per cent), followed by Comedian Beppe Grillo's Five Stars Movement and Monti (16 and 15 per cent respectively).