Election Eve in Italy


SEARCHING FOR CONSENSUS Election Eve in Italy BY SILVIO F. SENIGALLIA Rome Italy is now in the final throes of a noisy and expensive, though comparatively short, electoral campaign On May 7-one...

...SEARCHING FOR CONSENSUS Election Eve in Italy BY SILVIO F. SENIGALLIA Rome Italy is now in the final throes of a noisy and expensive, though comparatively short, electoral campaign On May 7-one year ahead of schedule—the country's 37 million voters will cast ballots for a new Parliament The old one was dissolved two months ago by President Giovanni Leone, sending the senators and deputies who had elected him only nine weeks earlier home to fight for their seats Leone's momentous and unprecedented decision caught no one by surprise and did not unduly disturb public opinion Though foreigners may not understand the complexities of a multiparty parliamentary system inevitably entailing government crises, Italy's man in the street is untroubled by the fall of one cabinet or another He knows that ministers are simply politicians representing a party (or faction), not experts in a particular field, and that the government is actually managed by civil servants whose efficiency is seldom affected by a cabinet line-up Hence there is no talk here of restructuring the multiparty system to insure greater government stability The major campaign issues involve more volatile matters (1) law and order, (2) the real or imaginary danger of a resurgence of Fascism, (3) unemployment and economic stagnation m Italy's worst recession since the War, (4) efforts to repeal the divorce law through a national referendum It was disagreement over the handling of these very issues that deeply split the center-left coalition of Christian Democrats (DC), Socialists, Social Democrats, and Republicans, which has run Italy since 1962 The formation of a stable government proving impossible, most people seemed to agree with Leone that an earlier electoral consultation couldn't hurt, and might well be a useful gauge of the nation's political temper The President has been criticized, however, for asking Giulio Andre-otti's all-DC minority government to stay in office as a caretaker up to the elections Many critics have observed that while former Premier Emiho Colombo resigned on January 15, he still formally enjoyed the confidence of Parliament, Andre-otti's Cabinet failed to win Senate approval Thus it would have been Silvio F Senigallia, a veteran contributor, is the Rome representative of Farrar, Straus and Giroux constitutionally correct, the critics insist, to retain Colombo's coalition government until May 7 Clearly, the Christian Democratic leadership wanted to go it alone as a minority caretaker for reasons of patronage and electoral image The first point is self-explanatory, as to image, the formation of an all-DC government made possible the inclusion of a number of notabih (conservative politicians of distinction) dusted off tor the occasion to reassure the voters It is hardly a secret that the Chnstian Democrats —who have supphed each Italian head of state for the past 25 years, who represent the lower middle class, women, priests, and civil servants, who form the self-proclaimed bulwark against Communism-have a good many fences to mend on then right flank In the immediate postwar era, the DC left was often regarded as a precious show-window commodity But in the last 15 years the party?actually a federation, smce it is divided into at least nine groups?has moved steadily to the left, as a pluralist and "interclassist" party, it needed a faction to attract more of the working class Slowly but inexorably, the DC left has become more influential m party affairs and now constitutes about 30 per cent of the membership Articulate, aggressive, not infrequently shrill, the DC left-wmgers are among the most severe critics of inefficiency and injustice in politics and public administration Located "withm the system," so to speak, the DC left has nevertheless joined forces with the Communist party (PCI) opposition on several specific issues and denounced the democratic majority's unwillingness to collaborate with the Communists and their various allies at the parliamentary level The more conservative of the DC voters never truly embraced the partnership with the Socialists established m 1962, and are today frightened and outraged by the behavior of their party's left In 1963 this reaction moved them further to the right, enabling the conservative Liberal party to gain a million votes and double its strength m Parliament This year serious labor unrest, mounting violence in the streets and schools, plus the recession have evoked a wave of outright reactionary longings for a "strong" government Riding this wave is the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI), and one of the large question marks of the campaign concerns the size of its inroads into DC right-wing support The leaders of MSI, which has virtually absorbed the rapidly waning Monarchist party, argue that 27 years after the end of the War and Mussolini's death, Fascism should no longer be an election issue The flames of anti-Fascism are artificially kept burning by the left-wing parties, they claim, and are exploited for electoral and ideological purposes As MSI Secretary-General Giorgio Almirante puts it, his party's "no to nostalgia" is not a product of weariness but rather stems from a desire to move forward without disdaining the past To be sure, MSI has dropped the black pennants, Roman salute and other ludicrous trappings of the Fascist era, tor Almirante is trying hard to change his party's image into that of a nationalist-conservative formation {la destra nazionale) And in order to appeal to the solid middle class as well as the grumbling "silent majority," MSI's slates of candidates teem with retired generals, admirals and high-ranking civil servants (including, alas, Admiral Gino Binndelh, the former head of nato naval forces in Southern Europe) The basic equivocation remains, however MSI persists in refusing to condemn the crimes of Mussolini's regime and the axis with Nazi Germany Although this stand has kept MSI beyond the democratic pale for 20 years, on election eve 1972 not only the Christian Democrats but also the Church is worried that right-wing Christian Democratic voters may finally swing to the neo-Fascists As indicated by a pronouncement of the Italian bishops, the Church has returned to the policy of all-out support for the DC followed by Pope Pius XII and partly discontinued by his successor, John XXIII Meanwhile, the Communists are looking nervously to their left The pro-Chinese Manifesto movement, founded in 1969 by a band of intellectuals who deemed the regular party too moderate for the purity of their doctrines, has presented its own slates of candidates m many districts and thereby established itself as the country's second Communist party Deriving its name from the newspaper it has pubhshed for the past three years, Manifesto urges school strikes, factory disruptions and eventual revolution The PCI, it contends, is an element of the bourgeois state and can no longer claim the sympathy of the masses, who demand a radical transformation of Italy and the world The movement is small but has an efficient political organization, as well as the emotional support of large numbers of students For high school pupils in Northern and Central Italy, carrying a copy of Manifesto is a status symbol as well as a political commitment The Manifesto group does not expect to win more than a handful of seats in the new Chamber of Deputies What its members really seek is supremacy of the extreme left?and in pursuing this goal they find themselves caught m a glaring contradiction The various gruppuscoh acting within the orbit of Italy's far left are essentially extraparhamen-tanan, heirs to the country's anarchist tradition A parliamentary role for the movement that seeks to lead them is not only a political non sequitur but may prove to be a senous handicap, too Unlike the Christian Democrats, whose captains are trying to appease the party's right wing to minimize possible losses at the polls, the old-line Communists are exceedingly severe with unorthodoxy, branding it as infantile adventurism that merely provides ammunition for enemies of the working class The PCI claims exclusive dominion of the workers' struggle against capitalism, it will not tolerate efforts to bypass the official chain of command and communicate directly with students and workers Like the Christian Democrats, though the Communists are at a critical crossroads Their party has become Italy's second largest, winning the votes of about 30 per cent of the electorate, by gradually diluting its revolutionary stance and stressing its role as a democratic opposition with government ambitions The Communists' strategy was clearly evidenced m new leader Enrico Berlinguer's report to the PCI national congress, held m Milan in mid-March His quasi-moderate platform for Communist government collaboration prompted Milan's influential Coineie delta Sera to note that the program could be underwritten by any Scandinavian Socialist If this is indeed the case, the party can scarcely hope, despite the verbal asperities of its parliamentary candidates, to keep withm its corral the increasingly aggressive groups on the far left On the other hand, regardless of its comparative moderation on national affairs, the Communist party is not likely to enter the government so long as its foreign policy is totally inspired by the Soviet Union's The cast of characters is completed by the Socialists, Social Democrats and Republicans, three progressive parties with varying attitudes toward Communism Although constantly feuding among themselves and with the Christian Democrats, they have been steady partners in Italy's ever crumbling center-left coalition The Christian Democrats have a sizable plurality but cannot run the country without help, their partners must provide approximately 20 per cent of the parliamentary vote needed to form a workable administration If we rule out a DC deal with the Commumsts or an opening to the far right and MSI, there remain three potential paths to consensus (1) continuation of a center-left coalition, (2) a shift to the left, with a Christian Democratic-Socialist alliance, (3) a shift to the center, with the Liberals replacing the Socialists The second and third formulas seem quite implausible on both numerical and ideological grounds Even m the outgoing parliament, neither formula could muster more than a skimpy majority of about 15 votes, barring defections or abstentions And on May 7 the Christian Democrats are expected to lose 15-20 seats to the extreme right, while the Socialists and Liberals are expected to hold their own or score only minor gains Today's bare margin, in other words, will probably disappear next week Moreover, a shift to the left would be opposed by the DC right and a move to centnsm by the DC left Should these predictions prove correct, the mam question will then be what kind of center-left Italy will have after the elections To begin with, the latitude of the new government's reform program as well as its attitude toward the Communists will be determined by a top-level tug-of-war between the basically moderate Christian Democrats and the Socialist advocates of a so-called "advanced equilibrium" In addition, the orientation of the Christian Democratic leadership will be affected by the extent of the party's losses to MSI and the electoral showing of the DC left wing If the total vote of the extreme left is stationary and the right does well, it is improbable that the Christian Democrats will accept the radicahzation of the coalition they have previously rejected Thus after the elections, as before, Italy will be guided by the center-left, but where it will be guided no one can say, and stability seems likely to remain elusive...

Vol. 55 • May 1972 • No. 9

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