If ‘The Triumph of the Leopard’ (nlr 199) had been written by a member of Rifondazione Comunista—by an Italian Communist who hadn’t yet recovered from the shock of the pci’s death and its resurrection as the pds—a reader could understand (and possibly forgive) the onesidedness of the account, the lack of any reference to deeper historical factors, the extreme personalization of politics and the wealth of abuse against Occhetto, the arch-traitor. In particular, an unbiased reader could understand (and put into context) the answer given to the central question of the whole article: why did Occhetto (actually, the great majority of the pds’s leaders) decide to support the ‘Yes’ option in the referendum on electoral reform? When it comes to ‘Occhetto’s treachery’, only three conclusions are in fact possible in the logic of the above indictment: actual treason (in the old-fashioned, Stalinist tradition); extreme stupidity; or sheer masochism—cupio dissolvi, as the author says. If the first one is excluded, the remaining two are possible answers: politicians are often stupid and sometimes masochistic. Since no convincing evidence is provided for either, our unbiased reader should be led to infer that the decisional situation in which Occhetto found himself has not been fully and fairly represented, as so often occurs in partisan polemics.

Tobias Abse is not an old and embittered Italian Communist; I assume that he, as most readers of nlr, wants to understand why certain things have happened in Italy or elsewhere, in order to draw a few lessons for the Left in general. A polemical and biased account, even if well informed, is useless: with such categories as treachery (or stupidity, or masochism) no lesson can be drawn. Worse, we may conclude that if only the leaders of a left-wing party did not share Occhetto’s disagreeable personal predispositions, a bright future would unfold for the Left. In these times, I cannot think of a more deceptive diagnosis.

In this note I want to do two things. First, I will try to make sense from the inside of the decision of the pds to stand for electoral reform: i.e. I will refer to the decisional dilemmas as they were actually perceived by the leadership of the party. Second, I will hint—only hint, since a fully-fledged analysis is well beyond the limits of a critical note—at the wider and deeper historical context in which such a decision had to be taken. Before addressing my task, however, two pieces of news should be added to Abse’s account.

On 6 and 20 June 1993 partial administrative (municipal, provincial and regional) elections were held in a number of electoral districts roughly amounting to one third of the national electorate. The municipal elections, in particular, were held according to a new electoral law which provides that the mayor should be chosen—two weeks after the first vote—in a ballot between the two leading candidates. It is impossible to enter here on a serious analysis of the results, and especially an assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of the different coalitions that a two-stage election allows (there have been a lot of comments on the victory of a previously unknown candidate in Turin who was supported by a centre-left coalition and the defeat of a very popular candidate in Milan supported by an all-left coalition). In general, those elections confirmed the increasing strength of the Lega. North of the Po the Lega is now by far the biggest party, with roughly one third of the electorate, a big increase over its already spectacular success in the April 1992 general elections. Only two large national parties now survive: the dc (Christian-Democrats) with 19 to 20 per cent—6 per cent down in comparison with the 1992 elections—and the pds with 16 per cent and roughly stable. The Lega, despite its virtual nonexistence in central and southern Italy, is the third party if it maintains its share in the North. As a proportion of the national electorate it could easily reach 15 to 17 per cent. The Socialists have almost disappeared and so have the minor centrist parties; Rifondazione and Rete (extreme Left) have together reached 11 per cent of the electorate, with a big increase for Rifondazione in Milan and Turin, and the neo-fascists (msi) are on the increase in the South. There are quite a few problems in using these data as indicators of possible results in the next national elections, both because local considerations and local lists play a big role in administrative elections and because the electoral test was only a partial one. But insofar as general trends are concerned, these are unmistakeable.

The second piece of news concerns the rules that will apply in the general election. At the end of July the electoral reform proposal which Abse discusses actually becomes a law of the Republic, with the votes of the Lega and pentapartito parties and the abstention of the pds. Despite Segni having changed his mind in the end and having come closer to the pds proposal (a French-style, two-stage election), the bill endorses his original proposal. In a single election, 75 per cent of the seats are attributed by a first-past-the-post system and the remaining 25 per cent by proportional representation, on the basis of the votes the various parties have obtained and on lists of candidates presented (and decided upon) by the parties themselves.

I agree with Abse that this new electoral law is a bad one: bad for the Left and bad for the country. Though the trends I have just described would assert themselves under any electoral system—and in particular under a strictly proportional one—the new law works to magnify the localistic tendencies that are splitting the country: it is a gift for the Lega which will obtain most of the 75 per cent, first-past-the-post mps in the North, and a gift for the local ‘barons’ in the South, who will run under any banner, dc, psi or whatever (local) list suits them best. The dc—or at least the decent elite that is now running this party—frankly admits the blunder it made by supporting the law: a first-past-the-post system usually favours the bigger party, unless there are strong regional concentrations. Having underestimated the strength of such concentrations, and especially that of the Lega in the North, the dc badly risks becoming an overwhelmingly southern party: as a matter of fact, the North/South divide is the big problem that the present leadership faces at the next congress, which is supposed to launch the ‘new’ Christian-Democracy, renamed the ‘Partito Popolare’.

I also agree with Abse that—after the ‘Yes’ victory in the referendum on electoral reform—the final outcome as I have described it was, if not necessary, certainly probable: despite some uncertainties, the attitudes of the main parliamentary groups were known and that made a two-stage, French-style electoral system rather difficult for the pds to achieve. It is true that the referendum had been fought under the twin banners of giving back to the people both the choice of their own representatives (first-past-the-post, single-member constituencies) and the choice of which government would run the country. And it is also true that, whereas the first objective implies the second when a two-party system is already established, this was not the case in the Italian situation: only a French system or a sizable majority premium would have favoured the second objective, and such were the proposals discussed inside the pds. But the new electoral law had to be drafted by a parliamentary commission and voted by parliament, and there, the forces sensitive to the goals of the referendum movement were a minority.