PRESIDENT Oscar Luigi Scalfaro has given Italians reason to hope for the unthinkable: an Italian government that works.
On April 26, Mr. Scalfaro asked Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, governor of the Bank of Italy, to form a government to succeed that of Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, who resigned on April 22.
Mr. Ciampi, the first non-parliamentarian asked to form a government in more than 100 years, promises a radical departure from politics as usual. He immediately said he would choose his government's ministers without regard to political pressures and solely on their merits.
Ciampi's nomination won the support of the parties that formed Mr. Amato's government (the Christian Democrats, the Socialists, the Liberals, and the Social Democrats). Speakers of both houses of Parliament praised the choice, and business leaders hailed the news.
"He's an excellent choice," says Giovanni Rodia, spokesman for the Liberal Party.
But Democratic Party of the Left leader Achille Occhetto said he would suspend his judgment. And Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, who had backed the candidacy of reform champion Mario Segni, expressed disappointment.
Ciampi said his priority would be reform of the electoral system that has produced 12 political parties and decades of short-lived governments.
The fact that he is not a professional politician is a distinct plus with a public fed up with numerous ex-ministers and parliamentarians under investigation for bribe-taking and collusion with organized crime. Economic experience
As prime minister, Ciampi would bring to the government 13 years of experience as the head of Italy's central bank at a time of massive public debt, rising unemployment, and currency woes that caused Italy to withdraw the lira from the European Monetary System more than seven months ago.
Italy's businessmen are looking to the government to finish the privatization efforts begun by Amato and to improve competitiveness in the private sector by reducing the cost of work, says Mario Cauli, spokesman for the Confindustria employers' federation, adding, "[Ciampi] knows these things very well."
The week before Ciampi was tapped to form a government, Italians overwhelmingly approved a referendum question that proposed a senate elected 75 percent according to the British system (in which the person who gets the most votes wins the contested seat) and 25 percent according to the existing Italian system of proportional allocation.
The poll's results must now be converted into law, however, and the country's various political parties are divided on how to do so, on whether to extend the same revision or a different reform to the Chamber of Deputies, and on when new parliamentary elections should be held. Finding a compromise acceptable to both a majority of parliamentarians and to the public will not be easy.
"The political situation in Italy is in evolution," notes Mr. Rodia. And for this reason, he says, Ciampi's government could prove to be transitional.
Ciampi said he would not consult the political parties in selecting Cabinet ministers. His predecessors chose ministers in close consultation with the parties that supported the new government, even to the point of balancing factions within political parties, although Amato managed to appoint a few ministers for their expertise rather than their political connections.
Rumors circulating just after Ciampi's appointment foreshadowed the shape of the new government. Amato, it was suggested, would go to the Foreign Ministry, despite telling Parliament on March 10 that once his term as prime minister ended he would not return to politics. Reformist ministers
Budget Minister Beniamino Andreatta and Treasury Minister Piero Barucci, supporters of privatization of the huge state sector, appeared in line to return to their old jobs. Alberto Ronchey, the innovative culture minister who informed his employees that they had to work instead of take two-hour coffee breaks and who introduced restaurants and gift shops to the country's museums, also was favored for his old job. Mr. Ronchey, a journalist, was, like Mr. Barucci, appointed by Amato for his expertise.
New faces could include Republican Party parliamentary Deputy Giuseppe Ayala as justice minister or even as a newly proposed institutional reform minister. Mr. Ayala is a former anti-Mafia judge who was prominent in the referendum movement and in current attempts to form a broad-based, left-of-center Democratic Alliance; he is among the few politicians who enjoy visible popular support. Another possible reform minister is Augusto Barbera of the Democratic Party of the Left (the former Communist Party), w ho also worked closely with Mr. Segni in the run-up to the April poll.