Anti-Mafia movement takes a beating in Sicily: The right-wing parties' triumph at the polls has hit the once-popular alliance against organised crime and may have let the mob off the hook, writes Patricia Clough in Rome

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The Independent Online
SICILY'S revolt against the Mafia appears to have collapsed. The anti-Mafia party, La Rete, and most of the leading anti-Mafia figures were trounced in the elections by Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the neo-Fascist National Alliance (AN).

Together, the two right-wing parties, which have not made the fight against the Mafia a campaign issue, won 36 of Sicily's 41 directly elected seats and four of the 12 proportional ones. La Rete, whose triumphs last year included an unparalleled 70 per cent majority for its leader, Leoluca Orlando, as Mayor of Palermo, got none.

Antonio Caponnetto, the courageous first chief of Palermo's anti-Mafia magistrates' team and last year elected a Palermo city councillor with the highest number of votes (40,000), was defeated by a neo-Fascist. Yesterday he resigned as chairman of the city council to have more time to continue his battle. The vote, he said, had shown 'the patent determination by the majority of the voters to exclude from parliament the most prominent people in a struggle which now has to be carried on more intensely than ever'.

The Mafia's role in the outcome, if any, is not known but Mafia experts believe they can discern one. They noticed that the has-beens from the defunct old ruling parties were defeated. The Mafia always looks to the parties which wield power.

But there are other factors: most of Sicily has traditionally been conservative and La Rete was predominantly left-wing. The results do not necessarily mean the anti-Mafia crackdown will slow down or that new MPs are compromised.

An important factor nation-wide in Mr Berlusconi's victory was evidently his appeal to women. Fifty-five per cent of women voters - many more than the men - opted for his Forza Italia on the proportional part of the vote.

Panaiotis Kantzas, president of the Italian Society of Political Psychology, said that Mr Berlusconi had had an effect on women similar to a drug.

'We tested a sample of 4,000 people throughout the pre-electoral period and it emerged strikingly that the psycho-physical state was similar to that which precedes a collapse of the organism . . . with marked symptoms of depression and social panic.

'Berlusconi appeared in the moment when, on an individual level, the prevailing sentiment was one of disintegration, people felt everything had collapsed. He . . . presented himself as a unifying element and had, especially on women, the effect of a sniff of cocaine.'

The media tycoon and his right-wing allies appeared to be making swift progress in working out a government agreement. 'We're 99 per cent there,' said Roberto Maroni, the Northern League's floor leader in the lower house who is tipped as deputy prime minister to Mr Berlusconi.

Mr Berlusconi's expected nomination must, however, wait until after parliament has reassembled on 15 April and the Prime Minister, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, has resigned.

Post-election polls yesterday showed Italians divided in their views on their prospective government. More than 43 per cent thought Mr Berlusconi's victory was good for the country, nearly 36 per cent said it would be bad, in a poll for the new daily La Voce.

Forty-one per cent thought the new government would last, 40 per cent disagreed. And 9.2 per cent said they would vote differently now from last weekend - a sign, the pollsters said, of the volatility of political opinions.

Nevertheless, opinions are not quite so erratic as it might seem from the resounding successes of the left in last November's municipal elections and the overwhelming victory of the right on Monday, according to Renato Mannheimer, a leading political scientist.

Less than 10 per cent of the electorate changed sides. A key factor, Mr Mannheimer said, was not only Mr Berlusconi's huge media empire but his ability to communicate. He warned the parties who had relied on 'instincts' instead of scientific methods in their campaigns: 'It is not enough to use mass media, one has to use effective techniques and study carefully what to say, both from the point of view of content as well as language.'

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