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New Left Review I/30, March-April 1965


Lucien Rey

The Italian Presidential Elections

Christmas, usually a political dead season, was enlivened in Italy by the election of a new president. Indeed, on Christmas Day itself, deputies, senators, regional representatives, ex-presidents, etc, trooped into the Palazzo Montecitorio—368 to say ‘I abstain’ and another 100 to drop a blank paper into the urn. Eventually, after 21 ballots and 12 days, Giuseppe Saragat received the necessary absolute majority and was declared President. His election was, above all, a blow to the Christian Democratic party, the dominant partner in the ruling centre-left coalition: they were confronted, for the first time since the war, with a president who was not one of their own but came from a lay party and, what seemed even worse, had been elected by the switch of Communist votes at the decisive moment. The centre-left coalition and the Christian Democratic party had been revealed as spectacularly divided among themselves and incredibly inept. The Christian Democrats had half anticipated discomfiture: although President Segni was paralyzed by a stroke, they had delayed replacing him as long as possible by exploiting the lack of any clear constitutional procedure for declaring him incapable. And when it finally came, it came at a cheerlessly sensitive time: shortly after the coalition had seen its vote slump badly at the municipal elections, in an atmosphere of mounting discontent (both within and without the government) at the dust gathering on its legislative programme.

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