On the eve of two major international summits in Venice, Italy's Premier Francesco Cossiga has won a crucial 11th-hour psychological battle with the country's Communists.
The victory -- in regional, provincial, and local elections that ended June 9 -- stabilizes Italy's three-party coalition government.
Mr. Cossiga's Christian Democrats (DC) won 36.8 percent of the vote in the regional elections. The Italian Communist Party (PCI) was second with 31.5 percent. In provincial races the DC won 36 percent compared to 31.1 percent for the PCI. In elections for city councils the DC won 35.7 percent and the PCI, 30 percent.
But the real winners were the Socialists, Italy's third-largest party and the Christian Democrat's major supporters. The Italian Socialist Party (PSI) won 12 .7 percent in the regions, 13.6 percent in the provinces, and 14 percent of the vote in cities and towns.These reflect increases of 2.8,3.6, and 4.3 percent respectively over last year's national elections.
The dubbing of the Socialists -- "the party than can sway the needle on the scale" -- was never more true. They are already being courted by the two larger parties to form center-left or leftist coalitions in still indecisive but important regions and towns.
Despite the ostensibly small vote gaps between the two main parties, the results were a vital Christian Democratic victory because a Communist campaign elevated the elections to a national referendum of the Cossiga government.
The Communist campaign was primarily based on accusations that Mr. Cossiga indirectly aided the escape of a terrorist -- a terrorist who is the son of the Christian Democratic party secretary. The campaign backfired and left the Communists even futher away from their dreams of entering the national government.
In all three sectors of the elections the Communists fell an average of 1.8 percent from previous elections in 1975, and an average of 1 percent from national elections last year.
Although the losses were not great, they reflect a downward trend that began in 1979. During national elections that year the party sufered from the backlash of the kidnapping and killing of former Premier Aldo Moro in 1978.
The Christian Democrats came out on top in 10 of the 15 regions that voted.
The pattern of Communist strength in the large nothern cities and weakness in the large southern cities continued but the impressive Socialist increases in all categories has given new power and prestige to the party that was one italy's second largest.
The elections were a victory for Soccialist leader Bettino Craxi, who has had open heated debates with the party's young vice-secretary, Claudio Signorile, over whether the party should collaborate with the Christian Democrats or with the Communists.
For the Craxi wing of the Socialist Party the elections were a referendum on whether the rank and file approved of the Socialists' role in the present coalition government with the Christian Democrats and the much smaller Italian Republican Party.
Since the 1976 national elections, when the Communists came within 4 percent of the Christian Democrats, the West's largest Marxist party has been trying to prove it would be a responsible leader within the democratic system.