Italy's old guard humiliated in election: Swing to new parties gives foretaste of poll earthquake expected across the country

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The Independent Online
THE federalist Northern League and the Greens seized sizeable slices of the vote from the scandal-hit established parties in the Valle d'Aosta yesterday in what could be a foretaste of important elections next Sunday.

The 85,925 people who voted for their new Regional Council in this green, largely French-speaking tip of northern Italy are hardly representative, especially since the biggest party, which also made gains, was the autonomist Union Valdotaine.

But they clearly confirmed the shri velling of the established parties: the Socialists, now in process of disintegration, lost nearly 60 per cent of their voters, ending up with 3.8 per cent while the Christian Democrats shrank by 23 per cent to win 14.9 per cent of the vote. The former Com munist Democratic Party, now also tainted by scandals, lost half its vote, some of it to the hardline Rifon dazione Communista. At the same time the Northern League and the Greens, both fighting Valle d'Aosta for the first time, polled 7.6 per cent and 7.1 per cent respectively.

Next Sunday nearly 11 million Italians, or almost a quarter of the electorate, vote in landmark local elections in 1,230 towns and cities, six provinces and one region: Friuli Venezia Giulia.

The elections are important not only because they will show how Italy's post-scandal party landscape is changing but also because town and city councils will be elected under a dramatic new system.

For the first time Italians will be voting directly to elect the mayor of their town. Previously mayors were chosen by local party bosses, usually of coalition parties, haggling in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms. Voters had virtually no say in the matter.

This new system makes mayors personally answerable to their voters rather than to their colleagues and allies, so that if they do badly they are likely to be thrown out at the next elections in four years' time. This is a new prospect for Italians, whose ultra-proportional system, in towns as well as parliament, prevented a clear alternation of governments.

The mayor will have a strong position which will give him a good chance of lasting the four years and not, as at present, be subject to collapses in coalitions or reshuffles. This is ensured by a 'premium' which ensures that he and his party, or alliance of parties, will be guaranteed 60 per cent of the seats in the council, even if they won less.

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