Italy's left wing appears closer than ever to its long-held dream of coming to national power, after runoff elections gave the victory to its mayoral candidates in Rome, Naples, Genoa, Venice, and Trieste.
In each of the five cities, candidates supported by the Democratic Party of the Left (the PDS or ex-Communists) won between 53 and 60 percent of the vote against conservative candidates.
The runoffs follow Nov. 21 elections, in which a liberal, anti-Mafia candidate won 75 percent of the vote in Palermo. Among those defeated were Alessandra Mussolini in Naples, who is the granddaughter of the Fascist dictator.
Italians voted directly for their mayors for the first time ever this year. Parliament is finishing the creation of further reform of its own election process. In two weeks' time, when the reform is completed, Italy's president is expected to dissolve Parliament and to set the date for the next vote, perhaps as soon as March 1994.
Much could change in the coming months, warns Sergio Romano, professor of contemporary history at Milan's Bocconi University. ``The other parties are going to make a major effort to recapture some of their lost consensus,'' he says. ``I don't think we can expect a repeat performance.... This is a very dynamic situation. It's moving very fast.''
Nor is the lurch to the left to be taken completely at face value, he adds. In Genoa, Venice, and Trieste, state-run enterprises are important and workers were afraid of losing their jobs to privatization.
``Their vote was a conservative vote,'' Mr. Romano says. ``The left would not have been so successful in some of the major cities had many of the electors not been afraid for their status.''
The great accomplishment of these elections, says Sen. Carmine Mancuso of the clean-government, anti-Mafia Rete party, is that they have created an Anglo-Saxon-style electoral system in advance of the parliamentary electoral reform.
``We've got a progressive pole, which comes out ahead, and a conservative pole'' led by the neo-Fascist Social Movement, he says. ``The center has disappeared.''
Mr. Mancuso maintains that voters turned to the left in the hope that it could break the entrenched, patronage-based political system that has permeated Italian life for the last two decades and caused the country's latest bribery scandals.
The most obvious loss in the center was that of the Christian Democrat Party, which has ruled Italy for decades in coalition governments. Its heavy defeat in cities throughout Italy followed the deep implication of its leaders in the ongoing political corruption investigation.
The party's demise left many traditional Roman Catholic voters in a quandary, since they did not want to vote for left-wing candidates whose politics might run counter to the teachings of their church, nor did Catholics in Rome and Naples want to vote for neo-Fascist candidates.
`BUT now there's the possibility to gather together a good part of the Catholics'' within the left, Mancuso says, if the victory is handled properly. The Rete's new mayor of Palermo, for example, is a Catholic who won through creating a broad-based coalition.
Professor Romano emphasizes that mayoral candidates must now build such large constituencies to win, since they can no longer rely on party machines to appoint them to office. ``They're much more representative under this new electoral system,'' he says. ``This is very important.''
As they catch their breath after the latest electoral results, several politicians are already presenting themselves as potential new prime ministers.
PDS leader Achille Occhetto considers himself a natural candidate for the post, after the sweeping victory of PDS-backed candidates in six of Italy's major cities. He has been careful lately to assure both foreign diplomats and business leaders that he has no radical economic policies up his sleeve should his party win big in the anticipated early parliamentary elections.
Newly elected Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando has also not disguised his interest in the job. Mario Segni, the ex-Christian Democrat who successfully pressed for the electoral reform now under way, has proposed his own candidacy as a bid to win support from the those who were nostalgic for the political center. And finally, the Northern League, the leading party in Italy's industrial north, proposes Roberto Maroni, the head of its parliamentary deputies.