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Italy's latest political stir

ITALY will surely weather its current political crisis -- just as it has successfully met and overcome the countless governmental challenges that have occurred in recent years. It will do so because, for all the commotion and stir that invariably mark Italian politics, the electorate is quite adept at arranging and rearranging governments: It has been doing it now, in one form or other, for well over 2,000 years. What makes the present contest so interesting is that the brouhaha involves what has become the most successful of all Italian governments since the end of World War II: The five-party coalition headed up by Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi has lasted in office for almost three years. That's far longer than any of the 43 governments that have preceded it in the postwar period.

Mr. Craxi's government fell late last week after defeat on a secret parliamentary vote on a public financing bill. As of this writing, efforts are under way to put the center-left coalition, which is made up of the Socialists, the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Liberals, and Republicans, back into office.

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As heady proponents of ``rugged individualism'' -- for all their close-knit family and regional structure, Italians appear to have a million diverse opinions on almost any conceivable topic -- it is not unexpected that Italy would have a multiplicity of political parties and factions. Yet, within this multiplicity of organizations there have been constants: One constant is the electoral clout of the Christian Democrats, which, with some 30 percent of the national vote, dominate national politics and were apparently instrumental in helping to bring down Craxi in last week's vote.

Another constant is the strong second-place strength of the Communist Party. The repeated challenge for the Western-oriented democratic parties has been to put together broad-based coalitions that keep out the Communists.

The Craxi-led coalition has done just that since coming to power back in August of 1983. In the process it has turned in an impressive performance. Italy's economy is prosperous. Inflation is down sharply. Labor turbulence has been substantially reduced. Many factories are booming, and Italian-made exports can be found all over Europe and in North America. On the foreign policy front, despite the brief period of friction with the US over American handling of the Achille Lauro affair, Italy has been a firm booster of the US. In his initial months in office Craxi withstood leftist criticism in supporting NATO plans deploying US-built cruise missiles in Italy. The government has also successfully moved to prosecute leftist radicals as well as organized-crime families.

The five members of the Craxi coalition did particularly well in recent regional elections in Sicily. In fact, parts of the coalition may have done too well. Craxi campaigned especially hard for his side, raising concerns from Christian Democrats and Republicans that he would make long-term gains throughout the electorate at their expense.

The Christian Democrats have wanted the leadership of the coalition to pass to one of their own later this year -- such as party secretary Ciriaco De Mita.

The vote in Sicily supports the view that the Italian electorate is eager for political stability during the present period. For that reason, it would be unfortunate if the current crisis lingered. It would be in the best interests of all the major parties -- and certainly the people of Italy as well as its friends in the other Western democracies -- to resolve the current crisis as speedily as possible.

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