Jubilant crowd hails Occhetto

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The Independent Online
ROME - Jubilant crowds thronged chanting around the former Communist Party headquarters in Via delle Botteghe Oscure. Achille Occhetto, its leader and potentially Italy's next prime minister, appeared on the balcony. 'It has been many years . . . ' he declared, writes Patricia Clough.

Round the corner, scarcely a stone's throw away, the beautiful old palazzo that is the seat of the Christian Democrat party was dark and deserted, populated only by the ghosts of the past.

It was a scene unimaginable even a year ago. A young attractive Green, backed by the former Communists and other left-wingers, had become Mayor of Rome - the city of the Popes and fief of the Christian Democrats, centre of their power, patronage and much of their corruption.

And the beaten opponents were not even those Christian Democrats or their former allies who have paid with near-extinction for their misdeeds, but the neo-Fascists, the pariahs of politics, swollen with conservative votes that had nowhere else to go.

The left had similar victories in Naples, where a former Communist apparatchik beat Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the Fascist dictator, while in Genoa and Venice a respected magistrate and philosopher beat Northern League candidates. In Trieste, a coffee merchant who wanted to serve his city defeated a conservative opponent.

The left, and particularly the former Communists, were closer to power than they have ever been since the Second World War. 'Our next aim is government,' said Mr Occhetto. 'Let us now prepare for a victory in March.' Lira and share prices, which had slid badly last week with the uncertainty, rose - evidently seeing it as a prospect of stability.

The left alliances were different in each city but often included the Greens, the Democratic Alliance (a group of moderate left-wing intellectuals), La Rete (a Catholic, anti-Mafia reformist group), followers of Marco Pannella (an unconventional and individualistic radical), and sometimes Riondazione Comunista, the hardline group that broke away when the former Communists became the Democratic Party of the Left.

If they win in the general elections it will also be because the right is in disarray. The centre- right has disappeared with the Christian Democrats. The neo- Fascists - the MSI - who won in four southern towns although they lost in Rome and Naples, and the right-wing Northern League are now the main parties of the right.

But they have nothing in common and the League has ruled out the chance of an alliance. The MSI has no allies and has been unable to repudiate fascism and become a 'respectable' party.

The League appears unable to expand outside its homeland in the North and is also in danger of remaining a regional, isolated party. But Umberto Bossi, its leader, has already indicated that it must move towards the centre and form alliances.

Moderate leaders now have the task of rebuilding the centre-right in time for the elections - a formidable task.