Italian MP seeks election delay

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ROME - Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the Prime Minister, yesterday began sounding party leaders on the future of his transitional government amid a byzantine attempt to spin out the life of the current unwanted and unrepresentative parliament, writes Patricia Clough.

The move, supported by a quarter of the MPs, is particularly odd because it aims to topple Mr Ciampi in a no-confidence vote, then have him succeed himself for another six months, albeit with a changed cabinet. The no-confidence debate has been set for next week.

Mr Ciampi, formerly the governor of the Bank of Italy, said clearly in his year-end press conference that he regards the tasks his government set itself when he took over eight months ago as completed. Among other things, vital measures to cut the state deficit and put the economy on the road to recovery were in place, and the new electoral law and other important reforms had been passed.

Mr Ciampi is clearly of the same mind as President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro who maintains the next step is elections to return a parliament which reflects the dramatically changed political make-up of the country after the collapse of the old corruption and scandal-ridden political parties. The President had planned to meet the presidents of the two houses of parliament soon to discuss the date of elections and it looked most likely that they would pick some time in March.

But Marco Pannella, the maverick MP, has thrown a spanner in the works by tabling a motion in parliament declaring that the present government has no support any more and that it should be replaced with another. Faced with such a vote, the President could hardly call fresh elections. Mr Pannella, who has given himself the task of midwife to a centre-right alliance to counter-balance the stronger and more cohesive left, wants elections postponed until June.

The MPs who signed his motion may be more interested in the time it would give to both new centre- right groups and reforming old ones before election day.

Mr Ciampi's first day of talks - he has more today - showed the discredited former ruling parties in favour of putting off elections; the former Communists and Northern League, who stand to do well, insisted they should be held soon.