Renzi’s future on line as Italy votes in critical referendum

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife Agnese Landini vote for a referendum on constitutional reforms, on December 4, 2016 at a polling station in Florence. Italians began voting today in a constitutional referendum on which reformist Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has staked his future.  Under Renzi's proposed reform, a body of 315 directly-elected and five lifetime lawmakers will become one with only 100 members, mostly nominated by the regions. The body would also be stripped of most of its powers to block and revise legislation, and to unseat governments.  / AFP PHOTO / CLAUDIO GIOVANNINI


Rome / AFP

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi voted on Sunday in a constitutional referendum that has put his future on the line, divided Italy and raised fears of political and economic turmoil across Europe.
Renzi, who has vowed to quit if he loses, was counting on a last-minute turnaround in voter sentiment to win backing for his proposals to streamline parliament and centralise some powers currently held at regional level in the name of more effective and stable government.
“Have you decided how you are going to vote, prime minister?” a female voter cheekily asked Renzi as he turned up at a voting station in his home town of Pontassieve near Florence.
“Now I’m thinking about it!” Renzi quipped back before spending ten minutes standing in line to register his vote. Opposition parties have denounced the proposed amendments to the 68-year-old constitution as ill-considered and dangerous for democracy because they remove important checks and balances on executive power.
Spearheaded by the populist Five Star Movement, the biggest rival to Renzi’s Democratic party, the No campaign has also sought to capitalise on the Renzi’s declining popularity, a sluggish economy and the problems caused by tens of thousands of migrants arriving in Italy.
“God willing it’s over. A new era starts tomorrow I hope,” said Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right Northern League, after voting in Milan.

Brisk voting
Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who belatedly backed the No side, was also out early as the interior ministry reported brisk morning voting. By midday nearly one in five of the 47 million Italians entitled to vote on Sunday had cast their ballot.
Polls close at 11.00 p.m. (2200 GMT) with the result, anxiously awaited across Europe, expected in the early hours of Monday.
If Renzi goes, some short-term market turbulence is inevitable. Some analysts fear a deeper crisis of investor confidence that could derail a rescue scheme for Italy’s most indebted banks, triggering a wider financial crisis across the eurozone.
If he wins, Italy’s youngest ever prime minister will take it as a mandate to accelerate reforms in areas such as public administration, the judicial system and education.
“If we miss this chance it won’t come back for 20 years,” Renzi warned voters before campaigning was suspended at midnight on Friday.
Voters have spent weeks passionately debating the pros and cons of the proposed reforms. Polls have been banned since November 18. Up until then the “No” camp was leading comfortably—but with a quarter of the electorate undecided.
After the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory, populism has been a factor, and Five Star, led by comic Beppe Grillo, would see a “No” vote as its stepping stone to government.
But the campaign has also caused many voters to reconsider the merits of a much-loved constitution, crafted in the aftermath of World War II and the bitter experience of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s disastrous rule.
Under the proposed reform, the Senate, currently a body of 315 directly-elected and five lifetime lawmakers, would have only 100 members, mostly nominated by the regions.
The chamber would also be stripped of most of its powers to block and revise legislation, and to unseat governments.

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