Italy left without a leader as president decides to step down

April 26, 1992|By New York Times News Service

ROME -- Italy's political turmoil deepened yesterday when the country's quixotic president, Francesco Cossiga, announced his resignation a day after Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti also quit.

The nation was in effect left leaderless in the hands of the paralyzed and fractured Parliament that was voted into office early this month.

The president announced in an emotional television address that he would formally sign his resignation Tuesday, two months before his seven-year term expires on July 3.

"My choice has to be to give the country a strong leader who can face this serious political situation," he said.

The announcement, midway through efforts to form a new government following national elections April 5 and 6, raised troubling constitutional questions about how a new administration could be formed.

Mr. Andreotti resigned Friday as part of routine post-election maneuvers to permit negotiations on a new government.

Usually, under Italian law, Mr. Cossiga would then name a candidate to succeed Mr. Andreotti as prime minister. But if he does not do that before Tuesday, Parliament may have to elect a new president before a new government is formed, a process that could take weeks or months.

It was not clear whether Mr. Cossiga was expecting calls to reverse his decision or to assume some other role in a situation that is turning into a political nightmare -- even by the standards of a country that has had 50 administrations since the end of World War II and countless government crises.

Technically, the president's post is largely ceremonial. But the 63-year-old Mr. Cossiga has turned it recently into a high-profile platform for attacks on official corruption, political decay, fiscal mismanagement and the growth of Mafia-dominated organized crime.

Italy's newest crisis began when the elections left the governing four-party coalition dominated by Mr. Andreotti's Christian Democrats with less than half the popular vote and a parliamentary majority so slender as to be unworkable.

Giovanni Spadolini, the Senate speaker from the small opposition Republican Party, automatically becomes acting president, and Mr. Andreotti is expected to remain in office as a caretaker prime minister with only nominal powers.

Political commentators said the legal and constitutional situation was so unusual that it was difficult to see how the crisis would be solved.

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