GIULIANO AMATO, the deputy leader of the embattled Socialist Party, was chosen yesterday as Italy's new prime minister.
He succeeds seven-time Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, a Christian Democrat, to lead Italy's 51st government since World War II.
Mr. Amato immediately faces a range of pressing problems, including reduction of Italy's enormous public debt (a condition for entry into the unified European market of 1993) and combating organized crime in the wake of last month's assassination of respected anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone.
Amato's first task, however, will be to decide which parties will form the new coalition government and to select his Cabinet. The process is a delicate one, requiring extensive consultations with Italy's political leaders. Each potential minister must be approved by Parliament, which is unusually fragmented since the April 5-6 elections.
Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, a Christian Democrat who was elected by the Parliament about three weeks ago, named Amato prime minister in a second round of consultations after the surprise withdrawal of Bettino Craxi, the Socialist leader, as a candidate. Mr. Craxi had withheld his party's crucial support for any candidate other than himself. But Wednesday Craxi, a former prime minister, backed off and said that he would support the nomination of Amato, Foreign Minister Gianni de Michelis, or J ustice Minister Claudio Martelli - all Socialists.
Craxi's Socialist Party has been hard hit by a construction bribery scandal that broke last month in the Socialist-governed northern industrial city of Milan. A baker's dozen of Socialist politicians are among the more than 60 persons being investigated.
Amato has served as treasury minister from 1987 to 1989 and, more briefly, a vice prime minister.
"Professor Amato is a political intellectual and a gentleman ... with a great ability for mediation," says Gastone Alecci, Amato's press attache in the Socialist Party headquarters here.
The decision comes 10 weeks after parliamentary elections, which dealt a blow to the ruling coalition of Christian Democrats, Socialists, Social Democrats, and Liberals.
The weeks following the elections have brought a number of surprises and changes to the political landscape: Mr. Andreotti did not become Italy's president, as had been widely predicted; Craxi will not head the government; and longtime Christian Democratic Party leader Arnaldo Forlani quit his post after the party's worst electoral showing in history.