Ciampi set to abolish immunity: Italian PM expected to call early poll to hold government together Ciampi set to abolish immunity

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The Independent Online
CARLO Azeglio Ciampi, the Italian Prime Minister, yesterday appeared determined to survive the storm that threatens to destroy his fledgling reform government by abolishing the now notorious institution of parliamentary immunity.

He also seemed likely to yield to immense pressure from potential supporters by promising elections as soon as electoral reforms have been passed.

Early yesterday morning, Mr Ciampi was piecing together his goverment, which was badly damaged in the storm of outrage that followed the Chamber of Deputies' refusal to allow prosecution of Bettino Craxi, the former Socialist prime minister, on corruption charges.

Within 12 hours of the government being sworn in he had lost four ministers and the much- needed support of the former Communists, the Greens and possibly the Republicans. The former Communists were among a number of parties that demanded fresh elections as protest demonstrations took place across the country.

The lira plunged overnight, but steadied again in the morning as it became clear that the government might survive.

President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, flanked by the Speakers of both houses of parliament, sought to exert a steadying influence, insisting that Mr Ciampi go ahead and seek confirmation by parliament next week. The government, he said, 'cannot be affected by parliamentary decisions taken with a secret vote in a sphere which is completely outside its responsibilities'.

Mr Ciampi is said to have told his remaining government allies that he is determined to lure back the former Communists of the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS), whom he needs to give his government broad support in parliament. Some PDS members indicated that this could be done. 'If Ciampi makes courageous and committed statements on electoral reform and parliamentary immunity the PDS could still vote in favour,' said one PDS senator, Filippo Cavazzuti.

But it may not be that easy. The PDS is full of divisions, and lacks strong and determined leadership. It fears losing even more supporters to the hardline, breakaway party, Rifondazione Comunista. Some factions have been pressing hard for participation in a reform government, others are so opposed they may even break away.

It is not only the PDS that wants parliamentary immunity to be abolished. Yesterday virtually all the parties - including the discredited Socialists and Christian Democrats - called for an end to the institution.

Under the Italian constitution, deputies and senators cannot be prosecuted without the express consent of their particular chamber. This privilege has fallen into deep disrepute, as it has saved not only Mr Craxi but numerous others from prosecution in the corruption scandals.

Under the law, the chamber may not judge the cases itself, but it can refuse to lift a member's immunity if the charges are 'patently unfounded' or if there is a fumus persecutionis (a whiff of persecution) about the charges. Mr Craxi and Giulio Andreotti, the former Christian Democrat prime minister, have been complaining that they are the victims of plots and persecution.

Francesco Saverio Borrelli, the chief prosecutor in Milan, whose staff set the corruption investigations in motion, has said he will appeal to the Supreme Court against Thursday night's vote and similar votes in the Senate refusing prosecution for Severino Citaristi, the Christian Democrats' administrator. He insisted that the two chambers, by voting separately on the different charges against the two politicians, were wrongfully voting on the merits of each case and thus usurping the powers of the court.

The other result of parliament's night of shame will doubtless be an added urgency in passing electoral reform and holding elections immediately afterwards - even though Mr Ciampi has refused to regard his government as short-term.

Mario Segni, the leader of the victorious referendum campaign for electoral reform, yesterday announced that he had tabled a Bill to give the Chamber of Deputies the same majority voting system as the Senate. He said he would ask Mr Ciampi to support the Bill.

(Photograph omitted)