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The Italian Example

JUBILATION on the streets of Rome and Milan is more than deserved, following a national referendum where 82 percent of Italian voters opted to radically alter their political system to allow more direct election of officials.

Coming after months of news about deep and widespread corruption in Italian politics, the outcome of the vote is sweet. The Italian system has long been a "blocked democracy" due to the character of its political parties. Parties are all-powerful and all-corrupt systems of patronage, graft, inefficiency. In the current system of proportional representation, Italians voted more for parties than politicians. An almost feudalistic loyalty to the party was often required for jobs and even education in Italy.

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Moreover, as throughout Europe, Italians felt their politicians had become distant - myopically fretting about petty problems of money and power. Government had become, to use a recent popular American term, "unresponsive."

Yet over the two-day referendum the Italian people spiritedly rose to say, "No more!" Faced with dispiriting, inbred corruption they said in overwhelming numbers, "Give us a voice!"

A clear mandate exists in Rome. If the parliament responds, and it hardly cannot now, two main areas change. First, proportional representation will yield to the kind of direct elections found in Britain and the United States. Second, the state will stop financing political parties.

Ideally, such changes allow voters to support ideas and platforms rather than parties. The system would become more streamlined. Many tiny parties would wither away, and politics would organize around a few strong ones.

The Italian parliament must vote for electoral reform in 70 days; then schedule elections.

A big winner in this vote is Mario Segni who resigned from the Christian Democrats months ago to champion the referendum. He may be a leading candidate for prime minister.

The Italian example offers hope. An old and corrupt system can change through peaceful, democratic means.

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