ROME — IN the run-up to a national referendum on political reform and in the midst of ever-widening corruption probes that are paralyzing the country, Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro opened talks on forming a new government.
He summoned Senate Speaker Giovanni Spadolini and Chamber of Deputies Speaker Giorgio Napolitano to the presidential palace on March 30. This is likely to be the first step in enlarging the government coalition, perhaps to include the Democratic Party of the Left (the ex-Communist Party, or PDS) and the Republican Party. They were later joined by Prime Minister Giuliano Amato. At press time, Mr. Scalfaro said he would delay a decision, but "reserved the right to take the appropriate steps."
"I think that a new government will take power, if not before, certainly after the [April 18] referendum," says Claudio Ligas, spokesman of the PDS. Speaker Napolitano, a PDS member, is a leading candidate to take over Mr. Amato's job.
The talks opened as the country was buffeted by unprecedented scandals, including accusations by Mafia penitents in judicial inquiries that former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti arranged political favors for the mob. International concern pushed the lira to a historic low against the German mark at 1,000 lira. (The scandal's effect on Italian business, Page 6.)
Giorgio Benvenuto, the leader of Amato's Socialist Unity Party, said March 29 that he felt the time had come to create a coalition government with a broader parliamentary base, including the PDS and the Republicans. The PDS has never been a member of a coalition, and Christian Democrats have been staunch opponents of a Communist presence in past governments.
The Christian Democrats (DC), the Socialists, the Social Democrats, and the Liberals make up the present coalition.
Many of the opposition political parties have been calling for a new government, perhaps consisting of experts instead of politicians. They argue that the Amato government, which came to power at the end of June 1992, is too closely connected to the discredited policies and politicians of the past to represent the Italian people today.
According to a poll of 154 senators and deputies taken last week by L'Espresso magazine, a potential successor to Amato is Napolitano of the PDS, who received one-third of the votes.
"I think he would prefer to stay where he is now, but I'm not sure it will be possible," says Mr. Ligas, laughing. "I think he will be forced to be the first prime minister of our side."
The possible fall of the government comes at a very delicate moment, especially for the Christian Democrat Party.
On March 27, Mr. Andreotti, a seven-time DC prime minister, received notice from the Sicilian capital of Palermo that he was under investigation for alleged links to the Mafia. The Parliament is evaluating the more than 240 pages of documentation that accompanied a judicial request to waive the parliamentary immunity of Andreotti, who is a senator for life.
The affair is "absurd," Andreotti says, and the charges are "slanders."
Later, five DC politicians were notified that they were under investigation for alleged links to the Camorra, the Neapolitan equivalent of the Mafia. These include Sen. Antonio Gava, who quit his post as leader of the DC senators.
"The latest judicial accusations are quite heavy," says Mr. Ligas of the PDS. "It's not a question of political financing, but another, much more dangerous matter."
Amid this storm, Mario Segni, the man who has trumped the referendum as a way to change the face of Italian politics, resigned from the DC on March 29. "It is a party without hope," said Mr. Segni in announcing his resignation, "dominated by the corrupt and by mafiosi."
Segni, who is talked about as a future prime minister, again asked party leader Mino Martinazzoli to join him in forming a new popular party.
Meanwhile, Segni's energies will be concentrated on the referendum. The key question, if approved, would establish a mandate to change the method of electing the Senate from the system that has created 12 national parties to one that would result in two or three major groupings.