Bank chief nominated as Italy's PM: Scalfaro looks to Ciampi as a symbol of honesty and independence at time of crisis

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The Independent Online
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Governor of the Bank of Italy, and a symbol of honesty, integrity and political independence, was yesterday nominated to form Italy's first government after the collapse of its discredited post-war party system.

Mr Ciampi, 72, announced that his 'absolute priority' would be electoral reform. He promised that his government would respond to the 'yearning for change' expressed by the overwhelming success of the referendum for a new majority voting system.

It would also tackle Italy's economic problems, seeking 'with renewed vigour' to cut the deficit while strengthening and modernising production to increase employment.

If he succeeds, Mr Ciampi will be the first non-politician to lead a government since the Second World War. His announcement that he would not observe the customary procedure of consulting the parties before putting together a government indicated that many of his cabinet may be technicians like himself. Politicians will probably be expected to act independently of their parties.

His nomination 'was the result of many 'No's', said Giorgio Benvenuto, the Socialists' leader. Mr Ciampi appeared, in fact, to have been a fall-back choice for President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro after other possible candidates were vetoed by one party or another.

The idea of an 'institutional' government led by one of the Speakers of parliament having evaporated, Mario Segni, leader of the referendum campaign, was a favourite but was unacceptable to the Christian Democrats, still unable to forgive him for the way he quit the party recently, saying it had 'opened the doors to the Mafia'. Romano Prodi, a well-known economist close to the Christian Democrats and the reformers, appeared to have been the final choice until the Socialists objected.

First reactions indicated that Mr Ciampi was likely to be supported by a majority among the parties in parliament - those who supported the previous government led by Giuliano Amato and maybe a couple more. But Achille Occhetto, leader of the former Communists, took a 'wait and see' stance, saying he needed to see Mr Ciampi's government programme first.

Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, said scathingly: 'We feared the old guard would be hard to get out and we see that the will of the (traditional) parties has prevailed.' Smaller parties such as the neo- fascists, the hardline Communists and the Greens were not impressed either. The League and others recalled how huge amounts of Italy's reserves were burned up in efforts to prop up the lira before it was finally devalued in last autumn's monetary crisis - a time when Mr Ciampi had tried to resign.

These parties had also been demanding elections almost immediately. Significantly, Mr Ciampi gave no indication how long he intended his government to last.

Italy's economic world was enthusiastic and the lira and the markets soared in response. 'The right man for the right job,' rejoiced one top banker.

'He has all the qualities needed to guide the destiny of Italy,' said Tancredi Bianchi, president of the Italian Bankers' Association.

It was no accident that President Scalfaro picked someone from the Bank of Italy. It has long been the only state institution which has been able to resist infiltration, exploitation and corruption by the political parties. It is respected abroad as well as at home for its high level of professionalism and independence. Although some critics regard the appointment as 'conservative' it was without doubt a break with the unsavoury past.