Rome finally sets date for elections

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The Independent Online
ROME - President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro yesterday dissolved Italy's discredited and unrepresentative parliament and, after much difficulty, elections were set for 27 March, writes Patricia Clough.

The President rejected the resignation of the Prime Minister, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, and his government, handed in on Thursday, and they will continue in office until the elections. It was an unusual move, designed to ensure the helm remains in firm hands during the uncertainties of the next few weeks.

The date of the elections remained uncertain for hours as the cabinet tussled with obstacles. The preferred date, 27 March, turned out to be the Jewish Passover and leaders of Italy's Jewish community pointed out that Orthodox Jews would be unable to vote. Backed by Catholics and political groups, they firmly insisted the state respect the rights of minorities.

The alternative would have been 20 March, but the constituencies for the new majority electoral system have only just been drawn up and ministers argued there would not be enough time to ensure voters were informed which constituency they belonged to.

In another departure from custom, Mr Scalfaro issued a declaration underlining the need for fresh elections three years before the scheduled end of the legislature. There was 'no question' its dissolution was 'not only justified but imposed' by last year's nationwide referendum, which overwhelmingly called for a new electoral system, and by the municipal elections last year, which showed there was a 'large discrepancy' between the country's new political complexion and the parties in parliament.