Italy's latest election showed - perhaps more than any other - the nation's eternal and frustrating search for compromise. In Italy's multiparty system, there are basically no alternatives acceptable to a Western European democracy other than a government dominated by the Christian Democrats, because the leading opposition is the Communist Party.
As in most Italian elections there was no clear winner in Monday's results. But perhaps for the first time there was a clear loser - the Christian Democrats , with 37 fewer deputies in Parliament and 5.4 percent fewer votes than in the 1979 political elections.
As the party leaders themselves admit, they have finally been forced to realize that their house should be put in order.
Political observer Alberto Ronchey noted in an editorial in the left-wing daily La Repubblica that for ''the fourth consecutive time, early elections have been called because of the ever-increasing obsolescence of coalition governments in which no party recognizes its own responsibility, accusing the other parties of irresponsibility . . . (this) is indeed a serious state of affairs.''
Some of the general Italian electorate appears to agree. One young voter, Fabio Petroni, remarked that while ''there has been a big drop in Christian Democrat voters, there appears to be no valid alternative.''
The unprecedented loss of votes for the leading Christian Democrat Party meant that the second largest party, the Communist Party, came in only 3 percent below the Christian Democrats' 32.9 percent of the vote.
Yet the Communists themselves lost one-half percent of their voters and three parliamentary seats. Thus the net result showed losses for the major parties transformed into gains for the minor centrist, extreme right, and extreme left parties.
Christian Democrat Party leader Ciriaco de Mita took stock of the situation with some dismay. ''Italy will certainly be more difficult to govern,'' he said. ''More than a positive indication, this vote expresses a judgment of protest. Now the task is to translate this judgment into political initiative.''
What he and other observers forecast as the resulting government, however, was the same five-party coalition of Christian Democrats, Socialists, Republicans, Social Democrats, and Liberals that governed Italy before the elections. But this time it is a somewhat weaker alliance than before.
Publio Fiori, a Rome Christian Democrat deputy, foresees more early elections in the future. He interpreted the voting as a protest against his party's inability to face innumerable problems and at the same time carry out its program of government reform.
Tougher criticism comes from opponents and disaffected party voters who look back on 35 years of inefficiency, corruption, and political patronage as the root of the Christian Democrats' present troubles.
''I used to vote for them,'' says one Roman Catholic housewife from northern Italy, ''but over the last few years they have really disgusted me with their scandals and now their suspected ties with criminal organizations, as well as their nepotism.'' After deciding against voting a blank ballot, she finally voted for the minor Republican Party.
Although the Christian Democrats and Communists lost ground, the Socialist Party's ambition to reach 14 percent of the electorate remained an illusion. Its leader, Bettino Craxi, admitted, ''Of course, we hoped for more (than 11.4 percent). Every party hoped for more than they got.''
While some headlines announced the Christian Democrat loss as a victory, when the dust died down the comments were those of surprise at the strongly expressed change of heart in the voting. But underneath it all there was a feeling of sameness.
While Italy remains the leading European country as far as voter turnout goes , the nonvoters and blank ballots increased this time to 11 percent of the electorate, up 1.6 percent since the last elections.