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Political landmark for Italy

Friends of Italy can only hope that its landmark change of leadership this week freshens the climate for meeting the nation's economic and political problems. The strains have been so great over the years that frequent government turnovers have been no news compared with the nation's democratic resiliency in weathering them without coups or catastrophe.The present turnover ism news, because it gives postwar Italy its first prime minister not a member of the dominant Christian Democratic Party. It is this entrenched party, with its episodes of corruption and identification with the status quo, to which many Italians link their country's woes.

The Christian Democrats still have a lion's share of posts in a five-party coalition Cabinet. But the new prime minister, Giovanni Spadolini, belonging to the small Republican Party, was able to form a government after the Christian Democrats failed in the aftermath of a secret-society scandal that brought down their previous government. He hailed the results as the first "secular" government in the history of the republic. This referred to the four coalition parties long opposed to church influence in politics -- in contrast with the Christian Democrats, also known as the Roman Catholic party.

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Analysts are at work on what all this portends to Italy's second largest party, the Communists, who remain unrepresented in the Cabinet; and Socialists, who made significant gains in this month's local elections and can't help noticing the rise of their colleagues in France. There are lingering questions about the twilit wheels within wheels of government, brought to the surface by the recent scandal. There is the tragic problem of terrorism.

The outcome of such matters will be affected by what the new government actually does -- and how the Italian people respond to what seems like an opportunity to go forward with less than usual of the b aggage of the past.

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