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NEWS ANALYSIS : Scandal and Voter Revolt: What Will Italy Do Now?

April 22, 1993|WILLIAM D. MONTALBANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ROME — In the unsettled aftermath of a historic voters' rebellion, caldron Italy bubbles with toil and trouble, with extravagant mystery--and disquieting questions.

A sign of the times: Rome celebrated the 2,746th birthday of its legendary founding by Romulus and Remus on Tuesday night, with scarcely a city father around to blow out the candles. The mayor and his entire squabbling council had all resigned this week.

Did the country's biggest crook kiss the country's most senior politician? Is there any end to a national scandal that is scarring some of the country's most eminent political figures and business leaders? Is there somebody left who can effectively lead a nation waging a bloodless revolution against official immorality?

In demanding new electoral rules, axing government ministries and forbidding state funds for political parties in an eight-point referendum, disgruntled Italian voters made explicit early in the week what they will no longer stomach in a country that has lost its moral way.

What form a "second republic" will take, though, is unclear. And the route a decimated political class will now follow to create it is, at least for the moment, fogbound.

Prime Minister Giuliano Amato delivered a valedictory address to Parliament on Wednesday evening, ending a 10-month government that has lived mostly under siege. Anxious to leave office, the professorial Amato, who pointed proudly to his attempts to reduce a staggering public deficit, will officially offer his resignation today to President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro.

Scalfaro must appoint somebody to form a government that will implement the voters' demands for change through new legislation and then quickly schedule new general elections.

Whom will Scalfaro choose? General options range from a second Amato government to a so-called institutional government presided over by the Speaker of the house or Senate, to an experimental government under some totally new figure such as referendum architect Mario Segni, a maverick Roman Catholic reformer without a political party. Stay tuned.

Parliament has more than a new government to mull this week. It must also rule on a magistrate's request to lift immunity from prosecution from senator-for-life and seven-time former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, the personification of the closely held political Establishment that has controlled Italy uninterruptedly since World War II.

Andreotti, 74, an icon of the dominant Christian Democratic Party, appeared before a Senate committee Wednesday for the third time in a week to deny what he called "biased" allegations of Mafia links brought by informers.

He ridiculed the assertion of a former driver of Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore Riina that the two men and a local Sicilian politician had met in an apartment in Palermo in 1987.

Informer Baldassare Di Maggio told Palermo magistrates he witnessed Riina greet his guests with a ritual kiss that he termed "a sign of respect among (Mafia) men of honor."

The mere fact of the accusations against a figure of Andreotti's stature raises alarming questions: Has there been a direct Mafia link to government over the years as Italy matured into one of the world's seven richest countries?

Were the Christian Democrats' two most important political underwriters--the Roman Catholic Church and the United States--criminally aware, or criminally negligent?

If, on the other hand, the accusations against Andreotti by Di Maggio and other informers are groundless, does that destroy their credibility as government witnesses?

The arrests and investigations underline a quickening national dilemma as Italy seeks a way out of national disillusionment. If everybody is guilty, is anybody guilty? Must the entire political class be exterminated by a justice system already too overburdened to deal effectively with its caseload? Or can there be a political solution that would swiftly punish the guilty while at the same time assuring voters and reformers of a constructive future?

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