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Political scandals pile up in Italy, but Andreotti manages to survive

By Kristin HelmoreStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 13, 1984


''It was raining mud from the skies above Italy.'' This front-page headline in a recent issue of one of Italy's most respected newspapers, La Repubblica, is a quote from a novel written in 1913 by Luigi Pirandello, the Italian dramatist and author. Its imagery couldn't be more apt today.

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The mud of political scandal - of accusations, suspicion, corruption - seems to be everywhere in the Italy of 1984.

The most urgent political question of the moment has become: How will the Christian Democratic Party, which virtually controls the five-party coalition government, weather the storm?

But behind this political question is another, of far greater long-range significance for a country that has had 43 governments - all under the thumb of the Christian Democrats - in the last 39 years: Will the current deluge of accusations and revelations of guilt and corruption finally result in a significant cleansing of the general political picture in Italy?

On Oct. 30, at the request of the opposition Communist Party, a vote was called in the Senate on whether Christian Democratic Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti should be forced to resign. A few days before, Christian Democratic Party chief Ciriaco De Mita had been quoted as saying Mr. Andreotti's resignation would bring down the government.

But when the Senate met to vote on the Andreotti question, the president of the Senate required that votes be cast openly instead of by secret ballot. The Communists roundly criticized this move, saying the members of the Senate would be more likely to vote the ''party line'' - thus protecting Andreotti - than to heed the dictates of their conscience.

And so it proved. The majority of votes were in Andreotti's favor. His position as foreign minister remains secure, and the present government is still intact.

Andreotti's long and distinguished career - he has been active in Italian politics since 1947 and has served as prime minister in five governments - would have made him an obvious choice for the post of president, whose formal powers are limited but whose prestige and political influence are considerable.

At the very least, the accusations against Andreotti are believed to have rendered it impossible for him to succeed President Sandro Pertini when his current seven-year term expires next July.

What would really have been significant about this 44th government crisis since the founding of the Italian Republic in 1945 concerns what is known here as la questione morale. If the present coalition government had fallen, its demise would have been due primarily to the large number and gravity of the political scandals in which it - and specifically the Christian Democratic Party - is involved.

The phrase ''the moral question'' has been used most often in connection with allegations against Andreotti himself. He is suspected of illegal dealings with financier Michele Sindona, who was convicted in the United States in 1980 for his role in the failure of the Franklin National Bank. At present Mr. Sindona is being questioned by Italian police near Milan.