Italy takes another path Election outcome: Triumph of the former Communists.

April 24, 1996

ROMANO PRODI, prime minister-designate of Italy, is an old Christian Democrat with the right priorities. He wants to cut the deficit, privatize industry and get Italy back into the European currency system. The catch is that the bulk of his Olive Tree alliance consists of former Communists less wedded to these things. Their leader, Massimo D'Alema, is the boss behind Mr. Prodi.

Worse, although this alliance led in Italy's election Sunday, it seems to need help from a smaller party called Communist Refoundation to control the Chamber of Deputies. That party remains Marxist and demands a return to automatic indexing of wages, which would mean a return to unbroken inflation.

Even so, the election brought such an improvement from paralysis that it was greeted by a soaring stock market and stronger lira. Mr. Prodi said the people had chosen governability.

Italy's major postwar parties, the Socialists and Christian Democrats, collapsed in a blizzard of corruption investigations. The old Communists were so embarrassed by the disintegration of their belief structure they changed their name in 1990 to Democratic Party of the Left. So Italy turned two years ago to a right-center coalition created as a personal vehicle by a businessman, Silvio Berlusconi, who served as prime minister until partners deserted and scandal caught up with him.

The result is that the Communist specter that long haunted Italy has finally taken power, behind a moderate figurehead and after the apparent death of communism. This is the ultimate triumph of softer, gentler decidedly non-Stalinist "Eurocommunism," which the Italian party invented. It differs from former Communists governing Eastern Europe in two respects. One is a tradition of independence from Moscow. The other is absence of the heavy baggage of having ruled.

To balance a new and inexperienced government, Italy needs an effective opposition. Mr. Berlusconi is willing but by now a liability. The smaller neo-fascist group called National Alliance and the crypto-secessionist Northern League survived the election only too well. If there is no more responsible opposition, they will volunteer.

For now, Mr. Prodi has the ideas to lead Italy forward, if his former-Communist allies let him.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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