Wily old fox brought low

Click to follow
ROME - More than any other politician, Giulio Andreotti, 73, embodies Italian post-war political history. He was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly, Italy's first post-war, post-fascist parliament at the age of 27 and has remained in the forefront of the political scene ever since, writes Patricia Clough.

He was already in government at the age of 28 as an undersecretary in the office of prime minister Alcide de Gasperi and has held office almost continuously ever since - in 33 governments to be precise. He has been prime minister seven times, defence minister eight times, foreign minister five times, finance, budget and industry minister twice each, treasury minister and interior minister once each.

Even more important, in the political system which has become discredited and is dying, he presides over a corrente or faction which accounts for around 20 per cent of the ruling Christian Democrat party and therefore has great power within what is still, though doubtless not for long, the most powerful party.

But his political longevity has been due above all to his great intelligence - conceded even by his many enemies - his pragmatism and his skill in the devious, Machiavellian back-room manoeuvrings that have become so much part of the Italian political scene. His colleagues find him extremely enigmatic, smiling and apparently unflustered by even the most alarming of events.

A principal rival, the Socialist Bettino Craxi, once called him 'a fox', adding hopefully 'sooner or later all foxes end up as fur coats'. Mr Andreotti's last prime ministership ended with the general elections in April this year, but he is by no means a political fur coat. None the less, the political world which he and Mr Craxi represented is coming to an end amid corruption and other scandals and it is extremely unlikely he will hold office again.

Nevertheless, he remains a life senator which means a daily part in politics if he wishes, he has his corrente and an immense network of political contacts and influence. Among these, his opponents point out, is Licio Gelli, the centre of the sinister P2 masonic secret organisation. Leoluca Orlando, leader of the anti-Mafia movement La Rete and one of his sharpest critics remarked: 'Andreotti is finished as a politician, but he is not yet harmless.'

Mr Andreotti is known for his quips: 'Power wears out those who do not have it', is one of the most famous. It certainly seemed to apply to him.

(Photograph omitted)