From 1992 to 1997, Italy faced significant challenges as voters (disenchanted with past political paralysis, massive government debt, extensive corruption, and organized crime's considerable influence collectively called Tangentopoli after being uncovered by Mani pulite - "Clean hands") demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms. The scandals involved all major parties, but especially those in the government coalition: between 1992 and 1994 the DC underwent a severe crisis and was dissolved, splitting up into several pieces, among whom the Italian People's Party and the Christian Democratic Center. The PSI (and the other governing minor parties) completely dissolved. This "revolution" of the Italian political landscape, happened at a time when some institutional reforms (e.g. changes in the electoral laws intended to diminish the power of political parties) were taking place. For this reason, Italian political commentators refer to the post-1992 period as the "Second Republic", despite the absence of any major constitutional change.

In the Italian referendums of 1993, voters approved substantial changes, including moving from a proportional to an Additional Member System (with the requirement to obtain a minimum of 4% of the national vote to obtain representation) which is largely dominated by a majoritarian electoral system and the abolishment of some ministries (some of which have however been reintroduced with only partly modified names, as the Ministry of Agriculture being renamed Ministry of Agricultural Resources). Major political parties, beset by scandal and loss of voter confidence, underwent far-reaching changes.

  • The main changes in the political landscape were that the left-wing vote appeared to be close to winning a majority. As of late 1993, it appeared that a coalition of left-wing parties may have won 40% of the vote, which would have sufficed to obtain a majority with the new electoral system given the disarray of other factions.
  • The neo-fascist Italian Social Movement changed name and symbol into National Alliance, a party that its president Gianfranco Fini called "post-fascist". Some new members entered into the newly formed party, such as Publio Fiori from the Christian Democracy, but not to a large extent. The new party, however, managed to gather large portions of the Catholic vote in the south and centre.
  • The movement Northern League vastly increased its support, with some polls indicating up to 16% on national basis (presenting itself only in one-third of the country). Secretary Umberto Bossi was gathering protest votes and the support of northern people, but had no clear government agenda.

In the meantime, Silvio Berlusconi, previously very close to Bettino Craxi and even having appeared in commercials for the Italian Socialist Party, was studying the possibility of making a political party of his own to avoid what seemed to be the unavoidable victory of the left wing at the next elections. Only three months before the election, he presented, with a televised announcement, his new party, Forza Italia. Supporters believe he wanted to avert a communist victory, opponents that he was defending the ancién regime by rebranding it. Whatever his motives, he employed his power in communication (he owned, and still owns, all of the three main private TV stations in Italy) and advanced communication techniques he and his allies knew very well, as his fortune was largely based on advertisement.

Berlusconi managed, in a surprise move, to ally himself both to National Alliance and the Northern League, without these being allied with each other. Forza Italia teamed up with the League in the North, where they competed against National Alliance, and with National Alliance in the rest of Italy, where the League was not present. This unusual coalition configuration was caused by the deep hate between the League, which wanted to separate Italy and held Rome in deep contempt, and the nationalist post-fascists; on one occasion, Bossi encouraged his supporters to go find National-Alliance supporters "house by house," suggesting a lynching (which however did not actually take place). The left-wing parties formed a coalition, the Progressisti, which however did not have as clear a leader as Berlusconi was for his. Achille Occhetto, secretary of the Democratic Party of the Left, was however considered to be its main figure. The remains of the Christian Democracy formed a third, centrist coalition, proposing reformist Mario Segni as prime minister candidate. The Christian Democracy, that had gone back to the name "Popular party," used at the beginning of the 20th century, was led by Mino Martinazzoli. The election saw a major turnover in the new parliament, with 452 out of 630 deputies and 213 out of 315 senators elected for the first time.


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