Italian vote cleans house, dumping familiar parties

November 23, 1993|By New York Times News Service

ROME -- In nationwide municipal elections depicted as an oracle of things to come, Italian voters registered their disappointment with the tainted parties of the mainstream by turning to the neo-Fascist and former Communist candidates in record numbers.

In 428 mayoral ballots from Palermo to Venice Sunday more than one-quarter of Italy's 40 million voters supported the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement, the Democratic Party of the Left, successor to the Communist Party of Italy, or the insurgent Northern League.

In Rome and Naples, the neo-Fascists emerged as the single PTC biggest party, even though their candidates trailed those supported by the Democratic Party of the Left in the contest for mayor.

In five of the six major cities that set the pace for the vote, candidates supported by alliances of the left, dominated by former Communists, emerged as front-runners.

And, as votes were tallied yesterday after exit polls Sunday night gave a first inkling of the result, the implications began to emerge, too.

For one thing, the outcome meant increased pressure for an early national vote to purge the old-guard politicians in the wake of a huge corruption scandal. It has tainted the heads of state-owned industries as well as some of the top leaders of the governing four-party coalition -- the Christian Democrats, the Socialists, the Liberals and the Social Democrats. The current Parliament was elected in April 1992, before the scandal first broke.

Of the coalition members, only the Christian Democrats, for decades the dominant party in Italy, registered at all, and their share of the ballot dropped from about 30 percent in the April 1992 vote to less than 10 percent. It was a phenomenal decline matched only by the rise of the neo-Fascist share of the vote in Rome and Naples by roughly the same amount.

The demise of the Christian Democrats leaves Italian politics without an identifiable middle ground.

"The vote that traditionally converged on the Christian Democrats has dispersed," Vatican Radio said in a commentary.

The vote led Italians into a new and confusing political arena: the former Communists are trying to cast themselves as the new center, and the neo-Fascists are offering themselves as the spine of respectable conservatism.

Under new voting regulations, candidates must win at least 50 percent of the vote to be elected mayor at the first ballot. Only one candidate in a major city achieved a first-round victory. That left the country facing a divisive battle between the former Communists and the neo-Fascists or the Northern League in runoffs scheduled for Dec. 5 in major cities, including Rome, Naples, Genoa, Venice and Trieste.

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