Italy votes again After two years: Berlusconi seeks another shot at prime ministry.

April 20, 1996

ITALY'S 1994 ELECTION replaced the old, corrupt politics with confusion and new corrupt politics. After the excitement, nothing was settled. So the voters will go to the polls again tomorrow. They have a chance this time to make a clear decision about Italy's future, but no assurance of doing so.

Silvio Berlusconi, the television and business magnate, rode to power as prime minister in 1994 with an impossible right-wing coalition. It included neo-Fascists favoring a powerful central government and the secessionist Northern League, which wanted to break Italy apart.

They came to power because magistrates rooting out corruption destroyed the credibility of the Christian Democrats and Socialists. But Mr. Berlusconi lasted only nine months, before the Northern League toppled him in favor of leftist rivals. He, too, is facing trial for bribery charges linked to his business success.

One choice the Italian voters have is a center-right Freedom Alliance that would restore Mr. Berlusconi to power before he is ++ tried. He introduced media sophistication to Italian politics and still benefits from it. The Northern League, his nemesis, is a spent force.

An alternative voters may choose is a center-left Olive Tree coalition. Its candidate for prime minister is a colorless academic economist, Romano Prodi, who served briefly in a Christian Democrat-led government. The brains of this coalition, however, belong to Massimo D'Alema, a former Communist who heads the Democratic Party of the Left, which is what the Communist Party is called these days.

The new choices leave much to be desired, but a judge on Tuesday rubbed in why the old choices are gone. Former Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi was sentenced to eight years for taking kickbacks on construction of the Milan subway. He was already evading an eight-year jail term on other graft charges at his holiday home in Tunisia and is not expected back.

New rules have replaced proportional representation with single-member districts, which should cut down on the oddballs elected. Most Italians want honest, centrist government. How to obtain that remains murky.

Pub Date: 4/20/96

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