Italy's old guard seeks salvation through reform

ITALY'S Christian Democrat party (DC), struggling to shake off the immense legacy of corruption, misgovernment and unpopularity accumulated from 45 years of uninterrupted rule, yesterday elected its first female president.

Rosa Russo Jervolino, 58, a Catholic lawyer and currently Education Minister, is a relatively new face and, above all, is untainted by suspicions of thieving, intrigues, patronage and the other murky habits that have so discredited the older party leadership.

She and Mino Martinazzoli, the secretary-general elected earlier this month, will seek to reform the party, its statutes, its internal organisation, its aims, its morals and its image - if it is not already too late. Mr Martinazzoli has warned that the Christian Democrats face extinction in some places.

The party is the biggest chunk of Italy's old political firmament which is breaking up under the pressure of public disgust with the decay in the ruling parties. After relying on 38-40 per cent of the vote in recent decades, the DC plunged to less than 30 per cent in last April's elections and would doubtless do even worse now.

Led by the great post-war statesman Alcide de Gasperi, supported by small farmers, Catholic workers and lay organisations, shopkeepers, numerous industrialists and - above all - the Vatican, the DC became by far the biggest party in Italy's first free post- war elections and was regarded as the main bulwark against the influential Communists.

De Gasperi's DC set Italy on its European course and started its rise from a poor country to a medium-sized economic power. But thanks to its size and to the absence of an acceptable alternative, the DC became virtually identified with the state, to the extent that it was accused of 'occupying' power. It appointed its proteges to key posts in state and para-state bodies, a useful source of patronage and nepotism. It controlled television and much of the media and awarded contracts and permits in return for kick-backs, which filled the party coffers and individual members' pockets.

Its smaller coalition partners were not immune from such temptations and the Socialists, who joined the DC in the 1960s, are reputed to have outdone it in greed and brazenness - and are paying with even greater unpopularity. Even the Communists, ruling in regional governments and cities, were not immune.

Despite the setback in April, many of the old guard could not bring themselves to go and it was only an even worse defeat in polls in Mantua last month that led to the election of Mr Martinazzoli and Ms Jervolino. Nevertheless, many old-timers are still in the DC's corridors of power, including Giulio Andreotti, the former prime minister alleged to be linked indirectly to the Mafia.

If the new leadership fails, the DC vote will emigrate to new political formations. In the north it is haemorrhaging votes to the populist Northern League while the new Democratic Alliance founded this month by a Sardinian DC leader, Mario Segni, is offering a clean, honest alternative to middle-of-the-road Catholic, lay, Green and radical voters.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly finalists Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge
tvLive: Simon Webbe, Caroline Flack, Mark Wright and Frankie Bridge face-off in the final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture