Italians vote for a new order: The people have delivered their verdict on years of corruption by giving the established parties a bloody nose in the first elections after the scandals

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VOTERS threw out Italy's old discredited parties and summoned in the new generation of political groupings - the Northern League, the anti-Mafia La Rete and those backed by Mario Segni, the electoral reformer - in municipal elections yesterday, according to projections from the bigger cities based on exit polls.

The scandal-ridden Socialists and their minor political partners virtually disappeared from the scene and the Christian Democrats crashed to humiliating levels in many places as the old parties were soundly punished for years of corruption and alleged links by some with the Mafia.

'An earthquake' was the term used again and again by television commentators as the projections came through. 'It is an earthquake that has made a break with the past and changed the whole system', said Mr Segni, whose overwhelmingly successful referendums for political reform had helped the Italian democratic revolution along.

It was the first time in the half-century history of the Italian republic that voters were electing their mayors directly, and in all but the bigger cities they were voting by a majority system, many of them also for the first time. In many cities the top two candidates face a run-off in two weeks' time because neither won more than 50 per cent of the vote.

The Northern League appeared to be dominating the results in northern Italy, while projections pointed to successes by the former Communists in central Italy. Marco Formentini, the Northern League's candidate for mayor of Milan, came first with 37.4 per cent while the League's list as a whole scored around 40 per cent, making it the strongest party in Italy's business and financial capital.

Mr Formentini faces a run-off against Nando dalla Chiesa, the head of a left-wing alliance composed of the anti-Mafia grouping La Rete, former Communists and Greens, who won 32.3 per cent of the vote. In contrast, the Socialists who, under Bettino Craxi, the former prime minister, had dominated Milan's political life and were the first to be hit by the corruption investigations, won only a humiliating 2.2 per cent - 11 per cent less than in the general elections last year and 16.2 per cent less than in the last municipal elections.

The Christian Democrats fared slightly better with 10.2 per cent, substantially lessthan they polled last year, although their candidate for mayor, the respected politician Piero Bassetti, won nearly ll per cent.

In Turin Diego Novelli, a former Communist who now heads a grouping composed of La Rete, the Greens, hardline Communists and pensioners, came first with 38.7 per cent, substantially ahead of Valentino Castellani, supported by Mario Segni and the ex-Communists, with 21.4 per cent. The League's candidate, Domenico Comino, was third with 18 per cent - although the League's list itself won 22.9 per cent, twice as much as last year. As in Milan and elsewhere, the top two candidates will have to seek allies before the run-off.

Mario Segni's candidate, Enzo Bianco - also supported by the ex- Communists - came first with 39.9 per cent in Catania, the biggest southern city to vote. La Rete's candidate, Claudio Fava, was second with 29.7 per cent - the two reformist candidates notched up nearly 70 per cent of the vote between them, an indication of a strong desire to change.

In less sophisticated Agrigento, in southern Sicily, however, a Christian Democrat candidate came first. In Catania, the Christian Democrats' list as a whole won 19.3 per cent, a heavy drop from last year, while the neo-fascists, who have been gathering protest votes in the south, gained by only a couple of percentage points to reach 10.8 per cent.

Nearly 11 million Italians were voting in more than 1,192 towns and cities, six provinces and one region - Friuli Venezia Giulia.