The Italian government has reportedly decided to postpone until next spring local elections that might have upset the delicate balance here between Italy's two largest parties, the Christian Democrats and the Communists.
The vote, originally scheduled for November, would have involved some 800 of Italy's 8,000 municipalities and about 8 million, or almost a fourth, of Italy's voters. Neither the Communists nor many Christian Democrats were eager to go to the polls now, however.
Despite their growing corperation, the parties are traditional enemies accustomed to election campaigns in which no holds are barred. Leaders of both parties feared the campaign rhetoric would threaten the recent unprecedented political accord in which the Communists agreed to support the minority Christian Democratic government.
They also were concerned that, regardless of the vote's outcome, it would interfere with future cooperation between the two. Neither the Christian Democrats nor the Communists, who between them control more than 70 per cent of the electorate, felt confident of winning the election.
"Over the last year there has been a definite improvement in Italy's situation, but it's anyone's guess whether it would be the Communists or the Christian Democrats to get the Communists or the Christian Democrats to get the credit," said Altiero Spinelli, an Independent deputy elected on the Communist ticket.
Agreement on postponing the elections, possibly until June, was reportedly reached in discussions among party leaders during the past week. The cabinet is expected to announce the decision soon.
Major support for the postponement is said to have come from Christian Democratic Premier Giulio Andreotti.
Sources say Andreotti is convinced that any change in the political picture would make governing here increasingly difficult. He believes a good showing by the Communists would cause that party's restive rank and file to call for less cooperation with the Christian Democrats.
A Christian Democratic "victory" could lead the right wing of his own party to demand a hard-line stance towards the Communists, as well as government reshuffle that could cost Andreotti his job.