Craxi, Benedetto (Italy)
Bettino Craxi served as Italy’s first Socialist prime minister from 1985–87. He led the Socialist Party from 1976–93 and made a profound impact on the Italian political landscape from the late 1970s onwards. His achievements in office, which included the radical reform of tax and pensions, have been overshadowed by allegations of corruption which were made towards the end of his tenure.
Craxi was born in Milan on 24 Feb. 1934, the son of a local government official. He joined the Socialist Youth Movement and was president of the national student union. In the 1950s he worked as a journalist for the political review Energie Nuove. His political career began in 1960 when he won a seat on Milan’s city council. Eight years later he was elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and rapidly made his mark within his party and parliament. In 1976, after the Socialists had suffered their worst election results for years, Craxi was elected party secretary. He took the opportunity to move the party towards the centre, away from the Communist old guard. The elections of 1982 saw an increase in the Socialist vote, and in 1983 he was elected prime minister.
Craxi’s first cabinet remained in power until June 1986, making it the longest continuous government since the war. In power Craxi oversaw an upturn in Italy’s economic fortunes and declared war on corruption, tax evasion and Mafia activities. His anti-inflationary domestic policies and pro-American foreign policies were highly successful. Craxi formed a new coalition government in 1986 but was forced to resign in Apr. 1987.
After an election campaign in 1992 which stressed Craxi’s credentials as an honest politician, he was investigated for securing illegal funds for his party. Craxi argued that alternative funding was necessary because of the gross inefficiency of the existing system. This was to make him personally accountable for the scandal, and although parliament voted to grant him continued immunity from prosecution, there was public uproar and Craxi was forced to leave the country for Tunisia. His final years were marked by illness and increasingly desperate efforts to absolve himself from wrongdoing. In 1996 he was convicted in absentia, and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. He was ordered to stand trial, but he managed to avoid doing so, despite receiving medical treatment in Italy. He died in Tunis on 19 Jan. 2000.