MILAN – Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, a past president of Italy who held the post during the sweeping corruption scandal of the early 1990s that reshaped the country’s post-war political landscape, died Sunday in Rome. He was 93.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano paid tribute to his predecessor as “a protagonist in the democratic political life” and an example of “moral integrity.”
“As president of the republic, he firmly and steadfastly confronted one of the most difficult periods of our history,” Napolitano said in a statement.
Pope Benedict XVI remembered Scalfaro as “a distinguished” Catholic man of state, who “helped to promote the common good and the perennial ethical and religious values.”
Scalfaro was a key figure in postwar Italian politics, helping to write the constitution and to found the former Christian Democrats. He held numerous prominent government posts before becoming Italy’s ninth post-war president, a position that is largely ceremonial but carries the significant role of moral compass for the country.
As president from 1992-1999, Scalfaro was often called upon to resolve Italy’s recurrent political crises, either choosing a new premier or calling early elections. He once called Italy’s volatile political situation “pathological.”
The “Clean Hands” investigations launched in the early 1990s uncovered a broad system of bribes that wiped out much of Italy’s political class, including key members of the conservative Christian Democrats and the centre-left Social Democrats. The scandals deeply eroded Italians’ trust in politicians and led to the demise of the two parties that had formed the pillars of post-war Italian politics.
Premier Mario Monti said Scalfaro “consistently defended the values” enshrined in the constitution “bearing witness with his actions and his rigour to all Italians, in particular the young.”
A devout Roman Catholic with a law degree from the Catholic University of Milan, Scalfaro spent the World War II years working to help imprisoned anti-Fascists and their families.
Then, in 1946, he won a seat in the assembly that wrote the constitution for the Italian Republic, declared in late 1947 after a popular referendum abolished the monarchy.
Scalfaro, a native of the northern city of Novara, was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in the Italian republic’s first general election in 1948 and remained a deputy until he was elected president in 1992.
Scalfaro held junior posts at various ministries through the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1966, he gained his first Cabinet position when Premier Aldo Moro appointed him transportation minister.
In subsequent governments, Scalfaro served two more stints as transport minister and was education minister and interior minister. He was vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies from 1976 to 1983.
He became a senator for life after completing his term as president.
He is survived by a daughter, Marianna. A funeral is set for Monday afternoon in Rome.