Italians weigh early vote as Craxi resigns

Italy's longest-standing postwar government reached its final stages yesterday as Socialist Prime Minister Bettinio Craxi offered his resignation. Parliament faces a choice: forming a new coalition government of Christian Democrats, Socialists, Liberals, Republicans, and Social Democrats or calling for early elections. Elections were to have been held by 1988.

Italians are now carefully considering Craxi's achievements: His government succeeded in lowering inflation from 16 percent to 4 percent since his rise to power in August 1983. His was the first government to tackle the powerful unions successfully and cut the cost of labor. A crackdown on tax evaders has brought higher and more evenly spread tax income to state coffers. The decreasing value of the dollar and energy-saving programs have produced a major drop in raw material imports, upon which Italian industry is almost totally dependent. But public spending has not increased proportionately with tax income. And despite the mammoth mafia trials in Sicily, organized crime remains one of the country's biggest problems.

In a pact made last summer between the two major government coalition parties - the Christian Democrats and the Socialists - Mr. Craxi agreed to turn over government leadership to a Christian Democratic candidate. But some analysts are skeptical of Socialist Party consent to withdraw from government leadership. The Socialists already show reservations about the probable Christian Democratic candidate, Foreign Minister and former Premier Giulio Andreotti. If all five parties in the coalition do not agree on the Christian Democratic candidate for premier, early elections will be held.

The Socialists hold 11 percent of the Italian electorate; the majority Christian Democratic Party holds 33 percent. Recent invitations from the opposition Communist Party have offered the Socialists the alternative of a left-wing alliance, but this be difficult for Craxi in light of his achievements over the last 3 years as leader of a centrist coalition.

Whatever emerges over the next few weeks, it is clear the Socialists will demand a high price for relinquishing the premiership. Already, according to press reports, they are demanding major ministries in the event of a Christian Democratic-led coalition. It remains to be seen whether their political collateral is strong enough to form a government with a pervading Socialist presence.

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