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Outlook Money
Frontline

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Banking on Dini

By V. Venkatesan

IF politics is the art of the possible, perhaps nowhere else are political possibilities exhausted as throughouly as in Italy. Last fortnight, the country's 54th post-Second World War government took office under Lamberto Dini, 63, a veteran of the Italian central bank, ending for now the stalemate since December 22, when media magnate-turned-politician Silvio Berlusconi stopped down following the defection of a key coalition partner.

President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro's appointing a political novice for the top job was not without symbolism. Italians, weary of politico-business scandals involving several former Prime Ministers, are banking on Dini and his apolitical "government of technocrats" to complete the unfinished agenda of fiscal and electoral reforms and to reassure jittery financial markets that have pushed the lira to a record low.

Dini unveiled a four-point programme to slash the $30-billion budget deficit, reform the politically-sensitive pension programme, provide parties equitable access to the electronic media, and make the regional election system less corrupt and more credible. But he may have to move fast. Berlusconi, who while resigning had recommended fresh elections, says he will support Dini only as a transitional figure. His Forza Italia party and its neo-Fascist ally, the National Alliance, still control the largest bloc in Parliament, and opinion polls favour them to win in the event of an early election.

The flamboyant Berlusconi, whose nine months in power were tainted by conflict-of-interest questions stemming from his ownership of the Fininvest media empire, seemed to have prepared for all contingencies. He spoke of a "private deal" with Dini, under which fresh elections would be held in six months. "Arrivederci," he told newspersons, "I am reasonably sure that mine is a brief good-bye."

For Dini, these can hardly be inspiring words. How far he can push ahead with his ambitious agenda remains in serious doubt. n

(Published in Frontline, February 10, 1995.)

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Guns and Roses

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