Right wing prolongs Italy's political agony

After nearly a month of seemingly intractable governmental crisis, Italy's political parties today begin their third, and what looks like their last, round of consultations with President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, who has promised that by Thursday the crisis will be resolved. The aim of the talks is to try to ward off an immediate dissolution of parliament with a cross- party programme for electoral and constitutional reform.

The country has been at a standstill since Lamberto Dini, the outgoing prime minister, first handed in his resignation last month at the end of his already temporary mandate. With no clear majority of any kind in parliament, and little prospect of improvement if elections were to be held under the present voting system, Italy has, in effect, turned into a government-free zone.

Political leaders, conscious of the embarrassment they are causing as Italy begins its six-month term as president of the European Union, have been trying to address several problems at once: the need for a new government, the need for a new electoral system, and the need for deep constitutional reform.

It always seemed unlikely that a parliament made up of 26 squabbling parties would ever agree to a coherent programme to change the political face of Italy under such high-pressure conditions. And yet there has been more to this crisis than the chronic instability of the Italian system. One man has proved the stumbling-block to a solution at every turn - the leader of the reformed neo-fascist National Alliance, Gianfranco Fini.

When the crisis began, the rest of the political establishment was happy to give Mr Dini a second mandate, albeit with a stronger ministerial line- up to replace his stop-gap team of technocrats, but Mr Fini said no. The next proposal was for a government of broad consensus to take Italy at least through its EU presidency, but again Mr Fini vetoed the plan, saying that only sweeping constitutional change would be an acceptable alternative to early elections.

A panel of cross-party constitutional experts set to work and came up with a new two-round electoral system to reduce the number of parties in parliament, a stronger mandate for the prime minister to provide the country with a clear direction, and a series of disincentives to stop parliament bringing down government after government, as in the past.

But again Mr Fini rejected the majority view, saying he would stop at nothing short of what he calls presidenzialismo - conferring sweeping powers on one directly elected political leader who would be only loosely accountable to parliament.

In some ways the young, ambitious Mr Fini has played his cards smartly, using his pivotal role within the conservative coalition headed by Silvio Berlusconi to swing the political agenda his way. Partly exploiting the anti-corruption investigations in Mr Berlusconi's business empire, he has to a large extent stepped out of the shadow of his mentor and staked a claim to the leadership of the Italian right.

Opinion polls show him gaining in popularity, suggesting that of his political peers he would have most to gain from a snap general election.

But the nature of Mr Fini's proposals has produced shivers of alarm, since his concept of presidenzialismo seems dangerously close to the authoritarianism of Mussolini, once described by Mr Fini as Italy's greatest statesman this century.

Mr Fini's closest constitutional adviser, Domenico Fisichella, quit the National Alliance three days ago, saying the direct election of a prime minister free of parliamentary constraint would be "essentially illiberal". The CCD, a small Christian Democrat party allied to Mr Berlusconi and Mr Fini, has threatened to withdraw its support unless the measure is dropped from the agenda.

Even Mr Berlusconi was yesterday distancing himself and trying to reassert his own authority within conservative ranks. "We have to be careful that the premier does not turn into a despot," he said.

It was Mr Berlusconi who brought Mr Fini, and his then overtly neo-fascist movement, in from the political cold by joining forces with him for the March 1994 general elections. Mr Fini enthusiastically accepted the offer and in return officially ditched his party's neo-fascist ideology.

It now appears, however, that Mr Berlusconi might have created a dangerous rival, slowly eluding his control - "Gianfrankenstein", as one cartoonist called Mr Fini.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn