De Mita, Ciriaco

(1928– )
   Although he was born near Naples in Avellino (Campania), De Mita began his political activities while studying law at the Catholic University of Milan. In 1956, he was elected to the National Council of the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC), and to the Chamber of Deputies in 1963. He first served in a government under Mariano Rumor as undersecretary of the interior. Between 1969 and 1973, he was vice secretary of the DC; he also subsequently served as both minister for industry and commerce and minister for foreign trade. De Mita’s political influence was enhanced by his appointment to the Ministry for the South under Giulio Andreotti in the late 1970s. In 1982, he was elected secretary of the DC. Despite the extent of his local power base, De Mita led the DC in the direction of factional reform. Factions had always characterized the party inasmuch as they served the electoral needs of the local notables who were at their center. His detractors argue that he was mainly concerned with reforming others’factions, leaving his own still able to function effectively. Whatever the truth of this allegation, the DC performed badly in the 1983 general elections (obtaining a postwar low of just 33 percent), and De Mita’s hold over the party became increasingly controversial. For many within the DC, he was too closely identified with the government of national solidarity and the policy of cooperating with the Partito Comunista/Italian Communist Party (PCI) to be trusted. The 1983–1987 government of Bettino Craxi was characterized by intense rivalry between the premier and De Mita, in his role as party secretary of the largest party within the government. In 1988, De Mita was forced to form a government himself. In its short life, it persuaded Parliament to approve modest reforms in the premier’s office, in local governments, and in parliamentary voting procedures. But franchi tiratori—party members who, under cover of the secret ballot, vote against their party leaders’position—from within the DC offered tenacious resistance to more deep-reaching reforms. After the DC elected his rival Arnaldo Forlani as its new secretary in February 1989, De Mita was put in an impossible position and was forced to resign as president of the Council of Ministersto make room for Andreotti, a figure who was more acceptable to Craxi and the Partito Socialista Italiano/Italian Socialist Party (PSI). In 1989, De Mita was made president of the DC, a post from which he resigned in October 1992.
   Although widely suspected of complicity in the 1980 Irpinia earthquake-relief scandal, De Mita has never been indicted—which makes him a rarity among DC politicians of his generation. He continues to exercise much behind-the-scenes power in the Olive Tree Coalition.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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