Berlusconi promises new era of morality

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The Independent Online
Silvio Berlusconi, the media magnate whose right-wing alliance won last month's elections, was yesterday asked by President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro to form Italy's next government

Mr Berlusconi promised the country, still shocked by its massive political corruption scandals, that 'point number one will be morality in politics'. There would be none of the 'old political games' or the carving-up of the spoils of government, he declared.

Addressing serious reservations that have been expressed about possible conflicts of interest between his own vast business empire and his duties as prime minister, he announced that a committee of three eminent jurists - two top judges and a professor of business law - to draw up legislation designed to prevent any mixing of business and politics. There was no immediate possibility of selling off his television interests, he added later.

Only three months after he announced his entry into politics - amid grave misgivings among his associates and scorn among his opponents - he had his companies set up a nationwide political movement, an extremely modern and efficient political machine, he had united the disparate and quarrelsome Right, wooed the electorate with a slick advertising campaign on his three networks and, with the Northern League and the neo-Fascist-led National Alliance, carried the elections.

At the presidental palace, his voice sometimes shaky with either nerves or emotion, he sought to dispel concern about his intentions and those of his allies which had even been expressed indirectly by President Scalfaro.

His government 'will reject extremism and fanaticism', he said, apparently referring to the neo-Fascist diehards and thugs linked to the National Alliance.

The economy needed a 'new climate of confidence'. He pledged to reduce the state deficit, increase employment and boost investments while creating a fairer, simpler and 'less burdensome' tax system. The state must be 'less invasive but more efficient' and there must be a battle against waste. At the same time he stressed that 'point number two' for his government would be 'social solidarity', thus seeking to dispel fears that as a free-market entrepreneur, he would have little concern for the needs of the weaker members of society.

Pledging to 'restore legality' in the country he promised 'to intensify efforts to defeat organised crime', meaning Italy's various mafias.

He responded to alarm at talk among his allies of changing Italy's post-war democratic constitution by promising that any major constitutional changes would be put to the electorate in referendums. Following the customary procedure, Mr Berlusconi did not immediately accept President Scalfaro's invitation but made his reply dependent on his success in putting together a cabinet. Although it is nearly a month since the elections and his nomination as prime minister has been more or less a foregone conclusion there are still knotty problems to be solved, in particular the choice of interior minister.

Mr Berlusconi said he would formally begin work on his cabinet on Monday and set himself no deadline for its completion. The important thing was quality, he said. 'We want the best people in the right place.'

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