Its Politics in Neutral, Italy Gears for Vote


AFTER more than 40 years of successive governments that last an average of nine months, the Italians are fed up with their political system. But since members of Parliament have been unable to agree on a new model, the Italians are once again going to the polls in early elections on April 21.

Some doubt the vote will resolve any differences: Polls show that public opinion is about equally divided between two opposing coalitions. ''I don't think that there will be any real difference after the elections, except that we will have spent a lot of money for nothing,'' says Debora Garozzo, a physician in the northern city of Bergamo.

For a while, it looked as if parliamentarians might introduce reforms, the most important being a system of government similar to that in France. A more powerful president would have been directly elected by the people, and could have nominated a prime minister without consulting with all parties in Parliament.

The result: more stable governments, according to supporters of the system. Italy's three major parties - the right-wing National Alliance, Silvio Berlusconi's centrist Forza Italia, and the Democratic Party of the Left - agreed to the reform. But the small Popular Party, balked, pushing Premier-designate Antonio Maccanico - who insisted all parties agree on the necessary reforms before he formed a government - to propose a compromise, which the National Alliance rejected. Mr. Maccanico resigned, and President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro called the elections.

WHILE Maccanico blames the National Alliance for the breakdown, Francesco Ranieri, who works in Rome for the RAI state television's educational programs, says the talks failed because of the Popular Party, made up of long-ruling former Christian Democrats.

''They had power for 40 years and they're using many tricks to keep the power.... They are the big problem, after having been a problem for decades,'' says Mr. Ranieri. ''The only chance for change would be if there were a kind of mental revolution in Italy.''

A partial ''revolution'' occurred earlier in the decade, when then-magistrate Antonio Di Pietro and other judges in Milan uncovered an elaborate system of illicit political party funding. The probes hit many prominent politicians, changing Italy's political landscape. The hard-hit Christian Democrats split into smaller parties with new names. Yet Italian electoral law, introduced by the Christian Democrats, ensures that numerous small parties were fully represented in Parliament.

Italians have voted for parties, not individual politicians, for decades. But Ranieri, representing a growing trend in Italy, says he doesn't feel like voting for a political party because none reflects his political ideas. Yet neither does he feel he can vote for individual candidates on their merits.

Giulia Maggio, a political science student in Palermo, agrees. ''By now, I don't think anyone likes any of these parties,'' she says.

She admires Mr. Di Pietro, one of the wild cards in the upcoming vote. Polls show that he has enormous electoral support. Although he has said he will not run for Parliament, politicians across the spectrum are worried he will side with their opponents in an 11th-hour decision.

''I'd vote for him with my eyes closed,'' says Ms. Maggio, ''and there are a lot of other people here who would do the same.''

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