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Italy's Left Crumbles After European Voting

Top resignations highlight trouble left-wing faces in Berlusconi era

THE latest electoral triumph of conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in which his candidates won nearly one-third of the votes for his country's seats in the European Parliament, has shattered Italy's political opposition.

On June 13, in the wake of their poor showing in the vote, the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) leader Achille Occhetto, the Socialist Party leader Ottaviano Del Turco, and the Democratic Alliance leader Willer Bordon resigned.

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The resignations highlight the crisis of the Italian left in the Berlusconi era. The left is losing support as Italians demand a solution to the country's job crisis; its parties are still far from united under one banner, which was the goal of the newly created Democratic Alliance; and it has no leader able to match Mr. Berlusconi's charismatic appeal.

Lack of an alternative

``What is Berlusconi's fortune? That he has no adversary worthy of the name,'' says Carmine Mancuso, senator of the Rete, one of the country's small left-wing parties.

``The left is losing because it lacks an alternative program and a leader,'' he adds.

After the June 12 election, Mr. Occhetto's party remains Italy's second largest, with 19.1 percent of the vote, a loss of a little more than a percentage point over last March's parliamentary elections. But that single percentage point spelled disaster for Occhetto, who had promised that the PDS would make a comeback in these polls.

After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Occhetto successfully created the PDS out of the Italian Communist Party in 1990, and he was a key supporter of last year's referendum that established a British-style electoral system here. In the run-up to the March parliamentary elections, he brought the party around to a moderate political and economic position acceptable to Italian and foreign businessmen.

But his accomplishments were not enough to win votes from a suspicious center-right electorate, persuaded by Berlusconi's argument that the leadership and ideas of the PDS were the same as those of the old Communist Party.

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Possible successors

Occhetto's possible successors include Massimo D'Alema, the No. 2 in the party, and Walter Veltroni, the editor of the party newspaper L'Unita. Mr. Veltroni strongly supports creating an Italian Democratic Party, which would replace the country's numerous left-wing parties (the Communist Refoundation, the Rete, the Greens, the PDS, the Democratic Alliance, the Social Democrats, and the Socialists).

Two of these parties, the Socialist Party and the Democratic Alliance, could not even muster 2 percent of the vote running together for the European Parliament, which sharply underlined the demise of the Socialists, who used to get 10 percent to 15 percent of the national vote under the leadership of the now-discredited former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi.

Mr. Craxi, who has been accused by investigating magistrates of taking millions of dollars in kickbacks for his party, has refused to obey a court order to turn in his passport to the Italian government and remains in seclusion in his Tunisian resort home, where he says he is under medical treatment.

Mr. Berlusconi's newly created Forza Italia party won nearly 1 in 3 votes in the European Parliament vote, following his party's heavy advertising on the three television networks he owns.

``Berlusconi has succeeded in turning the TV into a giant Piazza Venezia,'' says Senator Mancuso, referring to the Roman square used by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to rally popular support.

A dramatic increase

Berlusconi's 30.6 percent showing is a dramatic increase over the 21 percent he won in the March national parliamentary elections. After his latest victory, he threatened the opposition, saying if they did not let him govern, he would create a government crisis and send the country back to the polls, from which he would presumably emerge stronger than ever.

His main partners in the conservative ruling coalition also lost ground to Forza Italia: The neo-Fascist National Alliance won 12.5 percent of the vote, a loss of about 1 percentage point since the March parliamentary elections, and the Northern League garnered 6.6 percent, a drop of nearly 2 percentage points.

Berlusconi's promise to create 1 million new jobs and an economic miracle are just the kinds of reassuring words his fellow citizens want to hear right now, Mancuso says.

``The Italians aren't a revolutionary people like the French,'' he says. ``The Italians are very conservative, and they're interested in stability.''

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