Northern League in Italian poll gains

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The Independent Online
ITALIAN voters dealt another humiliating blow to their ruling parties in local elections yesterday and Sunday, turning in large numbers to the Northern League and other parties campaigning for a change to the discredited and out-worn political system.

The elections, for 55 town councils and one provincial administration, spread fairly evenly over the country, involved around 1 million voters. This was only 1/40 of the electorate, yet the results were being awaited almost as anxiously as if it were a general election, so uncertain is the atmosphere here as the power and prestige of the parties that have governed Italy since 1945 disintegrate.

The message was clear: the severe losses inflicted on the ruling parties, particularly the Christian Democrats and Socialists, in the general elections in April were not a mere warning shot. Italians really want change. The losses this time, proportionately, were equally large, while not only the League but also smaller groups such as the anti-Mafia La Rete and the grouping around the radical politician, Marco Pannella, made remarkable gains.

The federalist League, which had notched up only 4.3 per cent in municipal elections two years ago, and swelled to 10.3 per cent in April, won 14.5 per cent despite having campaigned almost entirely in the north. In the key towns of Varese, home of its leader Umberto Bossi, and Monza, it won 37.3 per cent and 32 per cent respectively, becoming by far the biggest party in both town halls.

Whether it will be able to form administrations is another thing. After it achieved a similar result in Mantua earlier this autumn, none of the established parties would co-operate with it and fresh elections are to be held in the spring. However, the League's advance and their own losses may force the other parties to stop the ostracism.

The impressive advance of other alternative parties indicates that if they could work together with the League they could soon oust the Christian Democrats and Socialists from power in some places. La Rete, led by the former mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, grew from 1.3 per cent six months ago to 4 per cent - and from zero to 8.2 per cent in Reggio Calabria, still traumatised by murder charges against four local politicians and by relevations of conspiracies between politicians, the Mafia, freemasons and businessmen.

Mr Orlando and Giorgio La Malfa, leader of the small opposition Republican Party, claimed that the majority of the four-party coalition in Rome no longer existed.

The political reformer, Mario Segni, and his allies, campaigning for the first time ever in Fiumicino outside Rome, won a remarkable 21.1 per cent, but nevertheless came second to the Christian Democrats who represent the corruption and abuse they are fighting. League splinter groups also notched up a few percentage points but the Greens, which had had 2.8 per cent in April, sank back to 1.7 per cent. The other successful alternative party is the neo-fascist Movimento Sociale, an outcast from the political scene since the war, which grew from 5.5 per cent in April to 6.9 per cent, gains being in the mostly Mafia-prone south where many see it as the only party which could restore law and order.

Of the ruling parties the Socialists, perceived as the most brazen in their abuse of the system, took the worst beating. From 18.2 per cent two years ago they plunged to 9.8 per cent - the price also for the refusal of the former Prime Minister, Bettino Craxi and other party leaders to step down. The Christian Democrats also slid again, from 35.6 per cent in 1990 and 29.1 in April to 23.8 per cent.

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