In an unprecedented move, Italy's president asked a woman Communist politician Friday to try to put an end to the country's three-week-old government crisis by resolving the deadlock between the anti-Communist coalition parties that have ruled Italy for the last decade.
President Francesco Cossiga gave Leonilde Iotti, the Communist president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, an "exploratory mandate" to sound out the outgoing five-party ruling coalition and see if it can be revived.
However, Iotti's prospects appeared bleak. In one of the first reactions to the move, the Socialist party of caretaker Prime Minister Bettino Craxi said in a statement that it received the news "with respect and sympathy. . . . The death knell of the five-party coalition couldn't have been rung in a more sensational way."
It was the first time in modern Italian political history that either a woman or a Communist has been asked to play such a role, and the irony of President Cossiga's move was clear: The traditionally male leadership of the coalition parties have energetically frozen the Communists out of a leading role in government since 1947.
Iotti was not asked to try to form a government, and she has no possibility of becoming prime minister. Under the Italian parliamentary system, an "exploratory mandate" gives her only a mediating role in consulting with other parties to see if a viable ruling coalition can be formed.
If Iotti cannot find a solution after consulting all parties, including the five former partners in the coalition, Cossiga probably will abandon the search for a quick solution to the crisis and call for early elections a year ahead of their scheduled June, 1988, date. However, he could ask another politician--such as Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti, who failed this week after one attempt--to try to form a government.
Iotti, 66, who heads the lower house of the Italian Parliament, joined the Italian resistance as a Communist during World War II and was for many years the companion of the late Communist Party chief Palmiro Togliatti, with whom she adopted a daughter, Marisa Malagodi. She was elected to the chamber in 1946 and became its first woman president in 1979.
Strong Political Party
The post is roughly the same as that of Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and puts her second in line after the president of the Italian Senate to succeed the president of the republic if he dies or is removed from office. Communists have held the job since 1976, when electoral victories entitled them to a favored role in the parliamentary leadership.
Italy's Communist Party, Western Europe's largest, is the second-strongest political grouping in the country after the dominant Christian Democrats. The Communists received a little more than 30% of the vote in the nation's last elections, trailing the Christian Democrats by only a few percentage points.
Iotti emerged smiling from her evening meeting with Cossiga and said she would begin consulting the political parties today. "The president of the republic has conferred on me the mandate to verify the possibility of forming a new government which has a parliamentary majority and which can allow the continuance of the legislature (until 1988)," she said.
The government crisis was touched off a little more than three weeks ago when Craxi, Italy's longest-surviving prime minister since World War II, abruptly resigned and refused to honor a previous agreement to surrender the job to a Christian Democrat in an orderly turnover of power.
Andreotti's Attempt Failed
The agreement was thrashed out last July by Senate President Amintore Fanfani, who was working under an exploratory mandate like Iotti's during a previous Craxi government crisis.