Italy's Political Upheaval under the Choppy Surface, Italian Politics Has Been Stable; but with Cold War's End Has Come Churning in Traditional Party Alignments

Article excerpt

THE end of the cold war has created a new situation in Western Europe, and Italy is one of the first countries where the political consequences are being played out. Consider these results of the Italian elections of April 5 and 6, which suggest the shape of things to come:

* The Christian Democrats (DC), who have dominated postwar politics, dropped 5 percent, a big change for Italy.

* The former Communist Party, which altered its name to the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS), received about 16 percent of the vote, while the old-style communists who bolted the party have 5.5 percent.

* An anti-South and anti-immigrant regional movement that advocates a federal Italy received more than 9 percent of the vote.

* The four-party coalition that ruled Italy no longer has a working majority, and an increase in the number of parties in Parliament has made it more difficult to put together a government.

Several important trends help explain these dramatic results. The collapse of international communism and the slow decline of the Italian Communist Party that preceded it meant that Italians who voted for the DC out of fear of a communist takeover could cast their ballots without this shadow over them. For decades the Christian Democrats have blocked progressive reforms advocated by their Socialist (PSI) and smaller political allies; instead of pressing for reforms, they relied on their status as an anti-communist bulwark to maintain their position as Italy's largest party.

The party's failure to modernize public and social services and to support constitutional reforms has now turned against it. For example, had the DC not blocked a proposed rule requiring at least a 5 percent vote for representation in Parliament, the fragmentation that occurred during these elections would not have taken place. Currently, parties need only 1 percent for representation.

Christian Democratic foot-dragging on essential reforms has created an odd contrast between a modern economy and inefficient public services. This condition fueled a protest movement, centered in Milan, called the Lombard League. It argues that Rome collects exorbitant taxes from the enterprising and prosperous North and gives only inefficiency in return, blocking economic progress. The League's rhetoric is also laced with racist pronouncements similar to those of Jean-Marie Le Pen in France and the Republicans in Germany.

According to Umberto Bossi, League leader, the central government is dominated by southern Italians, who are lazy and milk northerners through the government's special programs for the South. In addition, Italy has become a mecca for immigrants. …

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