Change in the air as Amato quits: 'People of tomorrow' take centre stage as Italy's First Republic draws to a close

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THE Italian Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato, announced his resignation in parliament last night, ending Italy's 51st government since the war and doubtless the last to represent the country's discredited and doomed 'partitocracy'.

Mr Amato immediately drove to the Quirinale Palace to inform President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, who asked him to stay on for the moment in a caretaker capacity. After rapid consultations, probably lasting only a day or two, the President will name a person to attempt to form a government and lead the country through the formal transition from the First to the Second Republic.

Mr Amato resigned after a seven- hour debate in the Chamber of Deputies, in which all parties called for complete change but remained divided over how to go about it. A majority, including Mr Amato, wanted the present parliament to stay on and produce the electoral reform demanded so overwhelmingly in last weekend's referendum.

The name of the next prime minister was the subject of intense speculation last night. Some parties suggested Mario Segni, the leader of the referendum campaign for electoral reform. Others, including the former Communists, who because of their size will play an important role in the transition period, wanted an 'institutional' government led by a high officer of state, meaning the speaker of one of the houses of parliament.

The chances of Mr Amato himself leading another government seemed to have shrunk rapidly in the past 24 hours, not least because he upset some of the parties by appearing to call the post-war party system a 'regime' and the country a 'party-state'. Mr Amato apologised profusely if he had been misunderstood. One thing seems certain, however: the next prime minister will not be one of the all-too-familiar faces now associated with scandals and abuse of power.

Change was already in the air in the chamber. It was, as the Speaker, Giorgio Napoletano, announced after the debate with some pride, the first time that a prime minister had resigned in parliament. It was also the first time the parties had openly stated their positions in the chamber. In the past the whole process had taken place behind closed doors in the Quirinale. Parliament, thanks to the insistence of the President, had become the stage for this vital part of the Italian democratic process.

And the people who dominated the debate were the people of tomorrow. There was Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, his colourful, tub-thumping style curiously mixed with learned historical references, telling the Prime Minister: 'The triumph of the referendum has brought down the whited sepulchres of the nomenklatura, buried the Cencelli manual (the system of carving up public life among the parties) and buried you and your government.'

There was also Mario Segni, grown immensely in political stature, concluding the debate calmly and unemotionally in his slightly droning Sardinian accent. There was a new atmosphere already, he noted, 'not only anguish and rage but also hopes and expectations. We can begin reconstruction.'

Meanwhile, a Senate panel debating whether to strip the former prime minister Giulio Andreotti of his immunity and send him for trial on charges of Mafia links decided it needed further information and agreed to meet again next Tuesday.

(Photograph omitted)