ITALY: COMMUNISTS AND CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS AT THE CROSSROADS

Created: 10/8/1985

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Italy: Conmunlsts and Christian Democrats at the Crossroads

Summary

The results of this spring's nation-wide administrative elections have given the Christian Oeoocrats, and the governing coalitionwhole, an important boost both psychologically and politically. In particular, their re-entry Into local coalitionshe wake of the election has boosted their access to power. The Communists' surprisingly lackluster performance,ontrast, probably represents their most serious setback Italy's two major parties are eachrossroad. Internal rifts are likely to dlitract both parties from the crucial decisions they need to-make about the future direction of their policies. We cannot be optmlstiche face of these deep divisions that the DC will be able to achieve enough stability to build on its recent electoral successes or that the PCI will be able to actesponsible negotiator, In addressing national problems.

This menoranduTipreparednriwifffin Analysts.

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Bottomlnq Out?

The results of this year's regional, provincial, and local administrative elections have reconfirmed the Christian Democrats (DC) as the pre-eminent force In Italian politicsa position the Communists (PCI) had appeared well-placed to usurp. Afterercentage points3 andazor-th'n plurality to the PCI in last year's European Parliament election, OC officials were bracing themselves for the loss ofercentage points tnts spring. For tne OC and most other observers, thisercentage-po1nt improvement over last years's European election resultsolid gain by the traditionally glacial standards of Italian electoral movement overshadowed the fact that they had not done as well as in the last-nationwide regional and local elections (See figure 1) Concern over the OC's inability to maintain0 share of the vote apparently also was muted because party leaders assumed that the vast majority of lost votes nad migrated to other menbers of the governing coalition, in particular to the Socialists and Republicans. Moreover, theercentage point gain over4 election looked particularly robust compared with the Communistspoint' drop during the same period.

national partners

This performance allows the OC to reassert itself, argue that Its momentum has been restored and that as the largest party in the governing coalition it deserves to be the dominant voice. Perhaps more significantly, the Christian Democrats now believe they can insist that the five national governinghristian Democrats, Socialists, Republicans, Social Democrats and Liberalsmpose five-party administrations wherever possible in various regional, provincial,ntctpa) jurisdictions. The Christian Democrats are especially anxious* to

overturn those local governments, whprp th are allleu with the Communists.

bringing home the bacon

The Christian Democrats' determination to reassert themselves within the governing coalition was reinforced in June by the successful outcome of DC Secretary DeHita's negotiations to have Francesco Cossiga chosen to replace former President Pertinionly one other president has been elected on the first ballot during theears of the Republic.

Despite these successes, however, the Christian Democrats face an uphill battle on the issue of five-party local coalitions. The governing partners postponed negotiations over restructuring the administrative governments until after the presidential election, but with that out of the way these talks

have begun In earnest. Craxi, who supported the idea of five-party local coalitions during the campaign, has insisted since the election that the local governments Bust be dealt Mithase by case basis. Cven where he does opt to push for flue-party coalitions, the OC probably -ill not be able to overturn all of the local councils that it has designated for five-party administration. Local Issues and local personalities almost certainly figure prominently In the deliberations, any Instances, after several years of cooperation with the Communists and poor relations with the Christian Democrats, grassroots Socialist, Republican, Social Democratic, and Liberal leaders are probably reluctant to carry out orders from the top to team up with the Christian Democrats. And where local party officials agree, against their better judgment, to follow the national party line, these new alliances are likely to begin on shakey ground.

irm hold on local power is especially Important, we believe, for parties in political systems like Italy's where cllentelism traditionally playsrominent role. Political loyalty in these circumstances is often closely linkedarty's ability to distribute favor's and largesse. In short, the DCs success In regaining access to local coalitions through the current negotiationsr at least maneuvering the Coaatunlsts outill be far more important than the numbers of vote* or even seats won. To date, the DC has sealed Its return to power In several of the largest cities: Roma, Turin, Milan,nd Haoles. Butocal governments have yet to be decided.

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Box

Victory tn the Eye of theomparison of this spring's regional, provincial, and local administrative election returns with the last nationwide local elections0 illustrates the extent to which electoral victory.in Italyn the eye of the beholder. Motions about victory and defeat can vary significantly according to whether attention Is focused on local, provincial, regional,'or national results and whether the most important indicator is share of the vote, net vote, or seats won. Moreover, the composition of local coalitions Is veryorse trading process; there is no guarantee that the final compositioniven governmentprovincial, or regionalill correspond to the numerical logic of the voting results. The pastears are replete with Instances where the Christian Democrats or the Communists haveignificant local plurality only to find themselves relegated.to the opposition because of political expedlency.

In percentage of overall votes. Christian Democrats and Communists both slipped this year comparedut thanksarger electorateeavy turnout, both parties saw their number of votes grow in the regional elections where the Christian Democrats0 votes and the. Results In the provincial elections were skewed in the other direction, however, with the Christian Democrats picking0 votes and the Coinmuniits0 votes. Although comprehensive final returns from the communal elections have not appearedhe press, early projections suggested that they would parallel the provincial scores.

A glance at the number of seats won and lost in the regional and provincial electionsery different impression about the outcome. In the regional elections both camps lost ground. The Christian Democrats, who droppedeats, however, lost nearly twice as heavily as the Communists. The dichotomy is even more marked in the provincial elections, where the Christian Democrats lost,eats to the Communists' 5. Our communal election returns remain incomplete. {See table

Statistically, It makes sense to compare this spring's elections with the last administrative elections, heldany Italians, however,umber of che country's most prominent political commentators, have preferred to emphasize the differences between this year's results and those of4 European Parliament election and3 national election. Despite the analytic problems generated by this kind of cross-

eiectlon comparison,s primarily in these findings that Che

_pr DC optimism and Communist disappointment takes root.

a more in-depth look Assessmenthristian Democratic Er

Christian Democrats, seetajj.:

Intelligence End of the

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tradltlonal campaign themes and tactics. OeKita characterized the campaign early onhoice between government by the OC and government by the Communists. Conmunist Party Secretary Hatta played into OeMita's hands by telling the press that if his partylurality, it wouldovernment crisis and authority touccessor government.

The Church on Their Side Active backlnj

alson Democrats

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niujto voters at the height of the campaign. US officials in Naples reported numerous instances where parish priests allegedly exhortedongregations toor nr at least vote against the

"Communist Menace."

Mobilizing the Youth Finally, Christian Oemocratlchad notable successobilizing youngtime voters. rowing number ofthis phenomenon both to renewed interestand to the OC's success In drawing uponpolitical groups, like RobertoPopolare, that channel younger votersDemocratic candidates,"j

Wot Out of the Woods

Despite the general enthusiasm generated by the DCs election performance, some members of the party hierarchy caution that the DC js not yet home free. Vice Secretary Guido Bodrato, for

Lurricny, in oop-yieviat the party's'recent relative successes can be attributedonfluence of favorable factors that will be difficult to repeat.

It has always been difficult for the UL to keep its warr factions In check, and experience suggests that their willingness to cooperate this spring probablyespite ratherermanent change. There Is no evidence that the party has made significant progress toward reconciling 'is four diverse currents, DeMUa and his colleagues still face the herculean task oftrategy that is acceptable to moderate reformers, southern members who believe that favoritism and petty graft are the norm In politics, leaders who want to transform the OCodern Thatcher-style party, and Roberto Formigonl's fundamentalists, who wants. the_ party to return to its roots as confessional party.

Integrating the fundamentalistswho, at least for the moment, appear to be the party's aost dynamic grouping into the party hierarchy will probably prove one of the most difficult tasks. Old-line OC leaders have been loath to surrender any power to Formigonl and his colleagues. Moreover, It is hard to Imagine how some of the fundamentalists' more serious notions about party reform can be reconciled with other viewsrw.ithin (he OC, especially those of the traditional southerners.

1

Failure to make significant progress onparty practices could also cost the DC Itsfrom the Vatican.

has already warnedenounce

them publicly the first time he hears, for example, that they have-been -on the

All of these problems loom large tn OeMita's thinking, in our view, but his attention over the longer term probably will focus on the question of whether theercent of the vote that the OC controlledhe9 national election Is recoverable or permanently lost. Although the DC looks healthier this spring than at any point during the past two years, most academic observers probably would agree that the DC's support among Italy's increasingly volatile swing votersho now ire believed to account for aboutercent of votersemains "ft. The OCizable number of their voters back to the fold this spring by playing up the threatommunist plurality. Now that they appear to have halted the PCI's advance, the Christian Democrats nay have lost theirf-fectiue argument for bringing reluctant voters to the polls.

The Communists: Turnabout Is Fair Play

The Communists' setback this spring in our view is roughly equal to the blow suffered by the OC in3 national electionoth in percentage of votes lost and psychological Impact. Like the Christian Oemocratshe Communists were taken completely by surprise. Although reportsT

e_d_ the restraint ol sumap-ect

imwuv me pui ij >the PCI leadership as a

whole was confident on the eve of the elections that theM0 administrative election score.

a further discission of the growing 1mpo Italy, leemplications of tho Local

The Communists' disappointment was compounded byof their losses. Although the party held its owntraditional red belthe North-Central regions ofTuscany, and Umbrland could claim someIn the south, it suffered serious losses in theof Lombardy and Piedmont, blue collar areas thrtthought they could count on. Moreover, whliedid reasonably wellhe hinterland and the smallcities, its worst setbacks occurred in theTurin, Milan, Genoa, Venice, Rome, Barl, and Palermovery spots where the Communistsimpressive

victories in the. (See

the Com.Tiunists Lost

Tne Coiaaunlsts may have lost support In some areas due to the poor performance or corruption of specific elected Communist officials, but recent public polls suggest two more fundamental causes for the PCI's setback: some voters had simply grown tired

of the same faces in office, while others worried that theabout to bound-ahead of the Christian Democrats. Thisalso the first time in moreecade that thethe electoral lists without their charismaticEnrico Berlinguer. The election campaignthat the Communists have not yet found aof filling 8erllnguer's shoes. Moreover, thespring underscored once again that the PCI had lostyounger voters and that the party is especiallyits left flank, f

*jlhj Berlinguer died just before the European Parliamentary elections invotes still made him an important forc<

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o Bloom Off the Rose me Communists' defeat in many of the large cities may Be primarily the result of their longevity in office and the popular perception that they should have made more progress with urban problems. Press and Embassy accounts make it clear that voters who helped

propel the PCI Into office ten years ago in anticipation that city services would improve significantly under Communist direction have become disenchanted. Consequently, thereidely shared perception that the time has come to clear out city hall again. Recent public opinion polls suggest, in fact, that voters were not so much dissatisfied with what the Communists had done in office, as disappointed that they had not accomplished Ten years of office have alsooll onarty's reputation for honesty and integrity. Although far fewer charges of corruption have been leveled against Communist Party office holders during the past decade than office holders from other parties, these incidents nevertheless have compromised the Communists'different kind of party with clean hands."

o Hatta's Slip The pres

gree that Communist uiier natca srippmifway through the campaign, he asserted that his

party would pressrisis and try toew government if itlurality in the election. This gaffe played into the hands of the OC, which had succeeded in molding the electionhoice between Christian Democratic and Communist-led government: the status qup_thf vaguely sinister and threatening unknown.

Weak Lcarter shin The death of Party Secretary Berllnguer last summer left the PCI floundering In searchtrong leader who could unite the party and clear up the' ambiguities surrounding the "democratic Alternative" he party's juccessor strategy to the "historic compromise." Natta flopped first one way and then the-other as he struggled to appease the various party currents. For openers, he alienated the OC by pursuing charges in parliament last fall linking Foreign Minister Andreottletroleum kickback scandal. But he found the road to fuller cooperation with the Socialistshe PCI's ryvly other option forajority government blocked by Craxi's violent anti-Communism. In thee tried to appease both parties without much success.

A strategy aimed at forging an alliance bPtweer, thr,eftist parties and the "progressive elements" of the OC.

LossesAlong the Fringes Another cause of the Communists' setback were their losses to the Proletarian Democracy Party and the Greens. In fact, Achllle Occhettoconsidered by many tht most likely candidate to replace Natta when the time comesrgues that Communist losses might have been even worse if the party had not restructured Its youth organizationobby for ecological and other special Interests groups that otherwise would be strongly attracted to the fringe parties. Htnasclta. the party's theoretical magazine, has emphasized that the Communists generally did better tn areas like Calabria, Baslllcata, Hollse, and Umbrla where the Greens did not run. Our calculations show that In therovinces where both the Proletarian Oemocrats and the Greens fielded candidates, their combined vote Is equal to nearly half of the Communist losses. In another IS provinces where the Proletarian Democrats ran lists but the Greens did not, the Proletarian Democrats gained at least half as many votes as the Communists lost. Ue suspect that In many instances the two parties were particularly effective among young and first time voters, two categories where theas admltteH difficulty for

some time.

PCI At The Crossroads

Ue believe that the elections this spring have heightened tensions within the party and.driven home to base and party leadership alike that the Conrnunists, like the Christian Democrats, have reached an Important turning point. It Is Increasingly clear that the PCI has at least as manyurrents as the DC thet hardcore identified with Armando Cossutta; the traditional left championed by Pletro Ingrao; Giorgio Napolltano's moderates who favor closer ties with the Socialists; and the Centrist BerlInguerlanl whose strategy has been to try to satisfy everyone. He believe that the rank and file and the leadership recognise that failing reconcile these currents could resultituation where, rather than holding on atpercent of the electorate, the Communists will begin to hearaorhage uncontrollably.

a number of sources have insisted over the past

-post-he Is

year that Natta might emerge as something snoreimple transition figure, we believe that the party's recent defeats have made It all but impossible to avoid reopening the succession question. Most party leaders have rallied to Natta's defense incriticism, and]"

likely to remainnce unrii as- imai nr>i

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Natta has outflanked his detractors within the party, at

least temporarily, by proposing to move theranuhrlv

scheduled congressear to next April, r

natta aoes not want iu ue ryuiemuereu meieiy a* liis tra-rcy secretary who led the Communists to one of their most serious

defeats.-sees the congress as an

opportun1ty'To-TeTreTra"ew political strategy and to facilitate "generational change" within the party hierarchy.

seek to be renamed party secretary at

the congress sna to erevate Achllle Occhetto to second-in-command. Natta Intends to retire,

within two years after the f Occhetto to replace him. Natta also hopes the congress willannp^ within the Secretariat

be named

occupants of these posts.

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o head various departmentsdespite objections from current

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concluded that tne congress sriuuiuAlternative" strategyavor of returningore active dialogue with the Christianoth Natta and the Christian Democr feelers about closer collaboration.

DeMua ana natta eacn sew ine reeenc negotiations id secure lonraunist support for Cosslga's election to the presidency as an Initial step toward Communist/Christian Democratic dialogue on other issues.

Natta will not find it easy to push through his ideas at the congress. Hot only is he likely to face stiff opposition from the party's increasingly vocal currents especially over jettisoning the Democratic Alternativeut helmost certainly inough time from the rank and file who have grown Increasingly Impatient with the slow pace of internal party democratic reform. Natta may be hard pressed to channel debate In directions that he wants or to stave off resolutions that he opposes.

Short-Term Gain for Italy and the US

The Communists' setback not onlyelcome outcome from the perspective of US Interests, It isealthy outcome for the Italian political system. The elections this spring may have underscored for the Communists that winning

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power is no guarantee that they will stay in power. Just as uninterrupted DC rule in the large cities85 weakened the Christian Oemocrats' capacity to govern effectively by exposing their Inefficiency, their venality, and their corruption, so ten years of office have taken their toll on the' PCI. The recent electionsyclehich the Communists and Christian Democrats have peacefully passed the reins of government back and forth In nearly all of Italy's largest cities, another Important step in the PCI's (volution toward Western democratic practice

The shiftomentum toward the OC, however, could prove ephemeral. We would not be surprised toalling out among the governing partners either nationally or locally that would enable the Communists to win back control in those city, provincial, and regional councils where coalition shifts have taken placeesult of only modest changes In the distribution of council seats. Renewing their access to local levels of oower would strengthen the PCI, and could be instrumental in setting them back on the road toward Joining the national government, j

Outlook

The immediate Impact of the spring elections on the PCI is already apparent in-the less strident tone and less effective conduct of its opposition. Preoccupied with internal matters and anxiously searching for new allies among the governing parties, the Commun-itf ara .likely toess confrontational approach toward government policies over the next several months.

In theory, the PCI's restraint should offerare* opportunity to come to grips with some of the country's more vexing problems. His success or failure will turn, however, on the willingness of the coalition partners to put their rivalries aside and press ahead with an agreed program.

Each of Uie three most prominent partnershe Craxi governmenthe Christian Democrats, Socialists, and Republicansgained in the administrative elections. Although the strong Socialist showing has improved the likelihood that Craxi will remain In office for at least several more months, both the Christian Democrats and the Republican? believe that they are nowetter position toigher price for their support. The Republicans may be content, for the time being, to extract concessions on economic policy; they are especially likely to insist that the government must undertake. new cost-cutting Initiatives to reduce the budget deficit.

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Economic policy will also figure prominently on the Christian Democrats' agenda as they attempt torogram to convince voters that the DC Is more serious about austerity than the Socialists without threatening key elements of their existing constituency. OeHita Is anxious to maintain the current coalition, but these elections probably have left him more determined than ever to reassert OC dominance and restrain the growth of Socialist Party Influence and voting strength. In our view, the danger both to the Christian Democrats'and to the survival of the coalition Is that DeMita or his colleagues will lose their sense of balance. In short, their ambition to reassert themselves within the coalition will cause them to lose sight of problems within their ownar rfinlrt. set the OC back on tne skids for the next election.

The Communists, for their part, are likely to be distracted by internal soul-searching for the next year or so. During this period they will probably be somewhat more pliantealing with the Christian Democrats than they have been recently. On balance, we conclude that the Christian Oemocrats and the Communists have both reached an important turning point. Their success at coming to terms with internal problems while establishing or maintaining alliances with other parties will determine the course of Italian politics for years to come. Factionalism within the two parties seems particularly Intractable, however, and we cannot be optimistic that the OCbe able to put Its own house In order or that the PCI will be stable enough to actesponsible negotiator in addressing

national problems.

Qristion Demcxratic and Communist Vote

40-

PQiropean Paria-nont

30-

On'stian Democrats

Corrimurtisto

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