Italy weighs options for new coalition

Italians face a summer of political crisis, only days after regional election results in Sicily were hailed by politicians as proof of government stability. The collapse Friday of Italy's coalition government was greeted here with amazement. The collapse followed a secret ballot on a law calling for more financial and administrative freedom for local governments. The vote came after the government had already won a vote of confidence on the bill in an open vote. According to Italian Parliament procedure, laws are voted through by both open and secret ballot.

As Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi handed in his resignation to President Francesco Cossiga Friday evening, he called the secret ballot system ``a totally Italian anomaly.'' He said he would like it abolished, because ``in [its] shadow so many distortions, confused situations, and maneuvers have caused extremely serious political situations.''

The secret vote that caused the government collapse was essentially the work of what are known in Parliamentary parlance as franchi tiratori or ``snipers,'' the name given to those deputies who vote in secret against their party line.

Speculation is rife as to what will happen next, as the procedure for forming a new government gets underway. President Cossiga will meet with party leaders this week. There appear to be three options: a parliamentary confidence vote of Craxi's government; another coalition government headed by a Christian Democrat premier; or early elections.

``One possibility,'' says political scientist Ernesto Galli Della Loggia, ``is that the Socialists will allow a Christian Democrat-dominated government to take power without the Socialists, as a sort of weak interim government. Meanwhile, Craxi will return to party politics as Socialist Party leader . . . and do all in his power to show that Italy cannot be governed without the force of the Socialists.''

The context of the collapse of Italy's 44th postwar government is different from preceding government crises. This government lasted almost three years, the longest of any since World War II.

Inevitably, any Italian postwar government has been either a coalition or based on agreement of at least two parties, since none of the 15 parties represented in Parliament claim a majority. Craxi's five-party coalition included the Christian Democrats, who hold 33 percent of the seats, and his own Socialist Party, which holds only 13 percent.

Since August 1983, when the Craxi government was formed, the country has seen a period of increased economic stability and lower inflation, an increased role in Middle East and Mediterranean politics, and the signing of an agreement between the Roman Catholic Church and the Italian government which precludes the church from any involvement in state affairs.

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