An Italian referendum that would have significantly changed the Constitution and structure of the Italian government was struck down by Italian voters Sunday in a development that signals to many that the conservative movement in Italy and across Europe and the United States is gaining power and appeal among voters.
The Italian referendum would have restructured all branches of that nation’s government, changing and redefining the balance of powers between the State, Regions, and administrative bodies. It would have also changed the composition of the Parliament. Supporters of the referendum say that the measure would have streamlined and aided government entities in working with one another, while opponents maintained that it would give to much power to the central Italian government. First introduced in 2014, the bill was changed and rewritten a number of times, before finally being put up to a general referendum vote in accordance with Italian law.
The opponents of the bill won handily during the vote Sunday, with the referendum being rejected by Italians by about 60 percent to 40 percent, a 20 point defeat.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, leader of the center-left Democratic Party, said before the vote that he would resign as Prime Minister if the Italian referendum was defeated. The vote was considered a referendum on Italian government and, indeed, in the leadership of Matteo Renzi. According to The Independent, Renzi did, in fact, resign as promised after the massive defeat of the referendum, and addressed the nation.
“We tried, we gave Italians a chance to change but we didn’t make it,” he said. “We wanted to win not to take part in the competition… I lost. I can admit it and I am sorry. I was not able to lead you to the victory. Good luck to us all.”
The defeat of the Italian referendum is a victory for two major groups in the Italian political consciousness, the populist Five Star Movement and the far right, anti-immigrant Northern League. According to The Guardian, the two groups are not often allies but came together on this issue. Both the Five Star Movement and the Northern League have large bases of support in the north of Italy, and high voter turnout in that region is largely responsible for the 20 point failure of the referendum.
The failure of the Italian referendum can be seen, in a larger context, as part of the conservative and populist movement sweeping the Western world. The referendum was defeated by groups like the Five Star Movement and Northern League, for example, who are in favor of leaving the European Union and replacing the Euro. The recent Brexit vote in June, when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, was spearheaded by similar groups. Matteo Salvini, leader of the Northern Leauge, took to his Twitter account Sunday after the failure of the referendum and praised political leaders like Marine Le Pen of France, Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, and President-elect Donald Trump of the United States. The result of the Italian referendum can itself be seen as a referendum against establishment politics. However, there are many in Italy that are unhappy with the countries economic situation, and the result could also be seen as a rejection of Renzi himself.
President Sergio Mattarella will be tasked with handling the transition after Prime Minister Renzi formally resigns. Mattarella will have to attempt to form a new government or failing that, call for early elections. The next Italian elections are currently scheduled for 2018, and it is likely that Renzi’s Democratic Party will hold power until that time. Europe, and especially the European Union financial markets, are looking closely at what the ultimate result of the Italian referendum defeat will be.
[Featured Image by Gregorio Borgia/AP Images]