Scalfaro squares up to Italy's ruling party

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

A TRIAL of strength is shaping up between Italy's disgraced former ruling parties, anxious to cling to what remains of their power, and its President, who favours fresh elections as soon as possible.

A clear breach between the two emerged unexpectedly at the weekend after President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro disclosed that he had been on the point of dissolving parliament on 23 September. That was the day when, in another vote that scandalised the public, the Chamber of Deputies refused to allow the magistrates to arrest a former health minister accused of corruption.

'Parliament committed suicide,' he told journalists. 'It was an intolerable vote which caused a breach between the people and Parliament, a breach of the principle of equality.

'I swear that after that vote, if all the the requirements had been fulfilled, the day would have ended with the dissolution of both Houses.'

Italy's new electoral law was passed in the summer but the new constituencies have still to be drawn up, and other bills passed before elections can be called. Meanwhile the scandal-ridden, centre-left parties still have a majority although they have little support in the country.

The daily La Repubblica reported last week, amid heated denials, that the Christian Democrats, the biggest party in Parliament, had devised a scheme to avert early elections by putting up a government of 'clean' faces, which they and their old allies would support. True or not, the old guard have little interest in elections. Many are under investigation and fear arrest the minute they cease to be MPs. Others fear for their parliamentary pension.

'He can't dissolve Parliament over a vote he does not like,' said Gerardo Bianco, Christian Democrat floor leader. 'It is not possible to dissolve the Houses as long as there is a majority supporting the government,' said Giulio di Donato, a leading Socialist who is under investigation.

If the President gets his way elections should take place in the early months of next year, but Italy's future political scene is far from clear. Mario Segni, the electoral reformer who recently failed to put together a broad centre-left party, on Saturday launched the idea of a smaller, centre movement called the Pact for National Renewal.

This would bring together people of liberal, moderate Socialist and Christian Democrat leanings who no longer want to vote for their old parties. Politicians who were not 'clean' would not be admitted. Mr Segni wants to create an acceptable alternative to the Northern League and their maverick leader Umberto Bossi.

A poll published in La Repubblica yesterday reported that between 67 and 76 per cent of Italians rated the League as 'reactionary', 'right-wing' and 'destructive', while the most common view of Mr Bossi was 'intolerant'. But it also indicated that Italians were becoming more open to the idea of a federal state. Twenty-eight per cent said the idea 'should be looked at', although only 6 per cent thought it was 'right' and 9 per cent 'possible'. Another 45 per cent thought the idea 'crazy'.