Italy's Rightward Move

ITALY's recent landmark elections originated in a widely felt national revulsion last year at what Italian politics had become in the 1980s: a system of entrenched party patronage and of scandal and kickbacks that led to the top of the ruling Christian Democratic Party.

Reformers such as Mario Segni engineered a referendum for new election laws last spring, which Italians voted for overwhelmingly. But last Sunday's election, in which 80 percent of the candidates were newcomers, may demonstrate that it is easier to call for change than to effect change. The Italian political house was swept clean. But rather than fill it with reformers, Italians turned to right-wing politicians; the number of neofascists in parliament doubled, mainly through Gianfranco Fini's National Alliance Party.

The far left holds about the same number of seats as the far right, but coalition arithmetic gives the neofascists a more important role. The outcome echoes similar trends in France, Germany, and elsewhere. Italy's political center, championed by Mr. Segni, never found its voice.

Italy's new prime minister is likely to be Silvio Berlusconi, whose right-wing ``Go, Italy'' party was the big winner last week. In American terms, Mr. Berlusconi is something of a cross between Ross Perot and Ted Turner. One of the most powerful businessmen in Italy, Berlusconi is the charismatic owner of a number of champion sports teams and of all three private television networks in Italy. His message at Italy's hour of needed reform, however, is a simplistic ``new Italian miracle'' that promises two things: lower taxes and 1 million new jobs. Berlusconi did not say how he plans to work this miracle other than through ``privatization.'' Still, he won by a landslide, including, remarkably, half the youth vote.

Shaping an orderly federal government out of so many new agendas in Italy, including a secessionist party in the north, is difficult, as an article on Page 3 of today's Monitor indicates.

Italians last spring voted for more judicial independence, more mafia crackdowns, less political corruption, and greater government efficiency. Berlusconi must prove he is such a reformer. One way to prove this is to allow the prosecution of his close friend Bettino Craxi, the former Socialist premier, who is part of the Tangentopoli corruption investigation. Mr. Craxi is responsible for creating the laws allowing Berlusconi to own the three TV networks that got him elected.

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