A struggle for political change

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 June, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 June, 1993, 12:00am

ITALY is in the throes of a peaceful political revolution.

Not since the end of World War II has the country witnessed such momentous changes to its political institutions and system.

The changes, as they come, might well lead to the dissolving of political powers - that have been been more or less on the scene from the early post-war years - and a realignment of political parties.

All this is likely to cause a significant and healthy alteration to the political landscape of the country.

The changes will lead to greater political stability in a country which has seen at least 50 governments come and go in the 48 years since the end of World War II.

For all its faults and drawbacks, the post-war system did stop Italy from sinking in the morass of political extremism and turned the country into one of the world's leading economies.

But now the time has come for change.

It is the time for a new generation of political leaders to take charge, to cleanse the old party system and give Italy a new image that will strengthen its parliamentary system against powerful party machines.

Before the next general election, which should be anytime from October, Italy is likely to see a healthy party system emerging.

At this stage, it is safe to say it will be a more stable two-party system.

One party will probably be grouped under the leadership of the Christian Democrats, and the other taking a more progressive stance and offering itself as an truly alternative government.

By then, Italy is also likely to see the first of many measures to cutback the deficit and public debt.

These moves may prove unpopular but, for the country to remain an economic giant, they are seen by many as necessary.

More privatisation of state-owned ventures is also expected.

Overall, these changes should lead to a more politically and economically healthy Italy.

Italy has been in a special situation in Europe since the end of the war, and the political situation was born, and has perpetuated out of this.

In its bid to keep the extreme elements from both the left and right at bay, a constitution was put in place that, invariably, led to coalition governments, which, in turn, led to a continuing volatile political situation.

The initial measures were a practical necessity at that moment in history, even if the intentions were not entirely laudable.

But while this constitutional arrangement was practical, it has turned out to be difficult to maintain.

Coalition governments, usually of three or more parties which would not always see eye to eye, were cobbled together.

This type of loosely knit government would usually lead to political compromise.

The arrangements between coalition partners might, initially, have been convenient, but they tended to become long-term liabilities and, in the end, unacceptable to the people.

This kind of coalition government ruled Italy for over 45 years.

The Christian Democrats have dominated the political scene for the period.

But coalitions lead to unstable government because they can survive only in so far as coalition members are able to agree on key issues.

So, politically instability has been a feature of post-war Italy; instability generated by the relatively short lives of governments.

This has often led critics to say that Italy is one country which has convincingly proved that governments are not necessary for a nation.

The need for coalition government and, therefore, for compromise, has also led Italy to maintain an enormous state sector - believed to be the largest in the Western world - and a generous welfare system.

These institutions have taken a bite out of public coffers.

The post-war system gave enormous power to the hierarchies of various political parties, which, like elsewhere, leads to corruption and cronyism in the state sector.

In the past, important but unpopular decisions to cut back on welfare by rationalising public spending, and by reducing state involvement in industry, were not taken because the parties could not afford to lose support and control that enhanced their power and influence.

But now the country is crying out for reform.

The collapse of communism and the consequent loss of influence from extreme left and right factions, has made many Italians realise that the old order should yield to new and more relevant political structures, arrangements and tougher decision-making processes which befit the times and changes in Europe.