WITH their country still reeling from an unprecedented crisis,
the Italians are preparing to elect a new Parliament.
They will have the opportunity to sweep away a generation of
politicians discredited in the Tangentopoli bribery and corruption
scandal and in judicial probes into links between politicians and
"In Italian, we say, `Better late than never,' " says Andrea
Scrosati, spokesman for the clean-government, anti-Mafia Rete
On Jan. 16, President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro dissolved Parliament,
by far the Italian Republic's shortest-lived (651 days). Prime
Minister Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who remains in office until after
the vote, then announced the election for March 27. That date
sparked immediate controversy, since it coincides with the Jewish
Passover, on which practicing Jews are forbidden to vote. The
government is considering issuing a decree to keep the polls open
through March 28.
Politicians, meanwhile, are still far from conforming to the
spirit of an electoral-reform referendum overwhelmingly approved
last June by their fellow citizens. Its promoters envisioned a
liberal and a conservative party replacing the current dozen
national parties, but there has been little action in this
Noberto Bobbio, a respected elder political thinker, wrote
recently in La Stampa newspaper that to develop a two-party system
of conservatives and liberals, Italy must renounce anticommunism
and antifascism (which stubbornly linger as political points of
reference) and must also abandon the idea of a Roman Catholic
The pope this month, however, urged political unity on Italy's
Catholics, which was widely seen as a call to continue to vote en
masse for an explicitly Catholic formation.
That party, the Christian Democratic Party (DC), was once
Italy's largest. Hard hit by Tangentopoli, it met on Jan. 18 to
create the Italian Popular Party and, it hopes, a new image.
But in its waning hours the DC was rife with division, with some
members seeking a coalition with the Democratic Party of the Left
(the PDS or ex-communists), some pining for the historic center and
refusing to join the new Popular Party, and some looking to the
right for alliances with the populist Northern League (provided it
renounces separatism) or with media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, who
continues to urge the conservatives to unite against the PDS while
still not officially launching his own party.
Reformers in the PDS-led left-wing coalition, which is predicted
to win the most votes, see this election as crucial for moving
ahead with change and bringing the country into line with European
"We are very determined that there will be no one in the
coalition that brings back memories of the old-style politics,"