Scalfaro, Oscar Luigi

(1918– )
   Born in Novara (Piedmont), Scalfaro, who is a fervent Catholic, entered politics by way of his activism in Azione Cattolica Italiana/Catholic Action (ACI). In 1946, as a young public attorney, he was elected to the Constituent Assembly for the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy Party (DC). Never identified with any of the DC’s factions or associated with the party’s power brokers, Scalfaro took nearly 20 years to reach cabinet rank, although he was entrusted with several junior ministerial posts in the 1950s and early 1960s. Minister of transport between 1964 and 1968, and again in 1972, Scalfaro was also briefly education minister from 1972 to 1973.
   An astute and knowledgeable parliamentarian, Scalfaro became deputy president of the Chamber of Deputies in 1976. He was called to ministerial office once more in 1983, when he became minister for the interior under Bettino Craxi. Scalfaro lasted all four years of Craxi’s premiership, but by the late 1980s he had begun to speak out against the rising corruption and moral degeneracy of the Italian political system. By 1992, Scalfaro was regarded as one of the “grand old men” (he was 74) of Italian politics. Elected to the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies following the elections of April 1992, his personal probity and uncompromising honesty became immense assets during the presidential election of May 1992. Initially, Scalfaro was not the candidate of any party, but in the mood of national revulsion at petty party politics caused by the mafia’s murder of the prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, Scalfaro emerged as a figure who might restore public opinion’s shaken faith in the country’s institutions. It is generally agreed that Scalfaro performed exceptionally well as first citizen. Making shrewd use of his constitutional power to nominate the premier for Parliament’s approval, he played an active political role between 1992 and 1999 and filled the institutional vacuum caused by the collapse of the former party system. In particular, he was the architect of the nonpolitical 1995–1996 administration of Lamberto Dini, the technocratic competence of which arguably saved Italy from an international crisis of confidence. Despite his somewhat priestly manner and a fondness for high-flown rhetoric, Scalfaro’s standing in public opinion remained high throughout his presidential mandate. He is a senator for life and is still politically active. Since leaving the presidency in 1999, he has been an outspoken critic of Silvio Berlusconi.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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