Brisk voting in Italy's referendum: Strong 'yes' ballot is expected for ending the proportional electoral system

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The Independent Online
ITALIANS flocked to polling stations yesterday to make their most important collective decision since they dismissed their monarchy after the Second World War. They were voting, among other things, whether to throw out the proportional electoral system which is blamed for much of their present political mess, and replace it with a majority one.

The turn-out was brisk and by 5pm, 10 hours after the polls had opened, 30.6 per cent had voted. The figures were markedly higher in the north, where revulsion against the system is greater than in the south, which has more to lose from change. Voting ends at 2pm local time today and the result, which opinion polls predict will be around 80 per cent in favour of change, should be clear by evening.

The campaign, refreshingly different from those of the past, ended on Friday night. There were relatively few posters, rallies and hand-outs, since the groups fighting for reform are operating on a shoestring and the established political parties, their huge incomes from bribery now dried up, are broke.

Another fresh touch was the campaigning style of Mario Segni, the principal organiser of the referendum and leader of the 'yes' camp. In the latter stages, particularly, he was constantly photographed and filmed with his attractive wife Vicky and sometimes with two pretty young daughters: an American- style image of a clean-living, united, modern family. Before, politicians' wives and families were kept in the background.

The 'yes' campaign may have had an added boost from allegations by Mafia supergrasses that the former prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, connived with the Mafia and instigated political murders, although the public had already been shocked by the political corruption scandals.

A further fillip may have come from reports of investigations being reopened against Leoluca Orlando, leader of the anti-Mafia reform group La Rete which is growing rapidly, particularly in the south. Sparked off by the remarks of a pentito, he is allegedly under suspicion of shady dealings while mayor of Palermo, the Sicilian capital.

Sunday newspapers and weekly news magazines pleaded for a 'yes' vote, concerned that many Italians had become seduced into thinking 'no' meant change. The 'no' camp, an assortment of parties including neo-fascists, La Rete and hard line Communists, were arguing that the established parties were aiming to hijack a 'yes' result for their own advantage.

Of the seven other referendums being held at the same time, one would end direct state financial contributions to political parties. Others aim to put areas of the economy out of the reach of the politicians, by scrapping the ministry for state- owned enterprises and ending government powers to appoint heads of Italy's savings banks.

The Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato, will see President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro today to discuss his government's future.