Italian Leader Steps Down Day of Reckoning for Renzi

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi failed to get the result he wanted in a critical referendum on Sunday. With the announcement of his intention to resign, Italy and Europe face storms ahead.


"I lost," a visibly moved Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said around a half-hour after midnight during a news conference at Rome's Palazzo Chigi. "And the post that gets eliminated is mine." On Monday afternoon, Renzi is expected to convene his cabinet, thank them for their work and submit his resignation to Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

It was a clear response in the wake of a clear defeat. Around 60 percent of Italian voters rejected Renzi's proposal to reform of the country's parliamentary system in a referendum on Sunday. Turnout proved extraordinarily high, with around 70 percent of eligible voters casting ballots, rendering any possible excuses moot. The result is clear. And because Renzi had early on tied the result of the vote to his own future as Italy's leader, there was likewise a second clear message sent by the electorate: "Ciao Renzi!"

That message was sent by voters from opposite ends of the political spectrum. The right, the far right and the far left all saw the reform referendum as an opportunity to push its initiator, the unpopular Social Democrat Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, out of office.

Left vs. Left

One of those who campaigned against the referendum was Rossana Rossanda, 92, an icon of the Italian left. During the 1950s and 1960s, she was part of the leadership of the Communist Party. She was expelled from the party in the 1970s for failure to support key party positions and, together with others who had run afoul of the party, formed Italy's most important left-wing newspaper, Il Manifesto. Like many on the Italian left, the leftist icon Rossana voted against the referendum and against Renzi.

Rossana said the "pack" she had joined forces with was abhorrent to her. It included groups like the right-wing nationalist, xenophobic Lega Nord; the anger-fueled euro-skeptic, anti-everything party led by former comedian Beppe Grillo; and the remnants of those who in the past supported former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Ultimately, though, Renzi is "just as bad" as them, she says.

Indeed, many members of Matteo Renzi's own Democratic Party voted against him for the same reason, including heavy-hitters like former Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema or Pier Luigi Bersani, who served as the party's chairman for years.

A Revolt of the Abandoned and Forgotten

Above all, though, the high voter turnout and the clear anti-government line underscores just how extremely disatisfied Italians are with state leadership, state authorities and their lives in general. And not without reason. Years of crisis in the country have largely devoured the once strong middle class. As in so many other countries, globalization has created a small class of wealthy winners and a large class of losers. Social harmony in these countries, as in Italy, is based on the belief that children will have better opportunities than their parents did. But with half of the country's young no longer able to find jobs, that dream has now died.

When young Italians gather in bars or on city squares, anger with the state quickly comes to the fore. The vote against Renzi is the rebellion of those who feel abandoned and forgotten. It's a vote, as Renzi said at many of his appearances, "against the political caste" -- just that Italians, particularly young ones, have long since come to see him as being a representative of that very caste. Not much is left of the man who once called himself "Il Rottamatore," the "scrapper" or "demolition man" who vowed to drive out vested interests and ossified political cliques. For now, the discontented and the new scrappers have now driven him out.

Italy's Future? Not Funny at All

It's difficult to make any clear predictions about what the outcome of the referendum will mean. One thing, though, is clear: Italy's banks are likely to slide deeper into crisis (for an in-depth look at the issues facing Italy, click here ). And with the uncertain situation likely to lead to an unwillingness to invest in the country, it seems likely that the economy as a whole will follow. Prime Minister Renzi may be stepping down, but the Social Democrats, together with their current coalition partner, the New Center Right party of former Berlusconi protégé Angelino Alfano, still have a majority in parliament and will seek to remain in power.

Italian President Mattarella could accept Renzi's resignation, but he could also theoretically reject it. It's possible that a transitional or technocrat-led government could be installed until the next parliamentary elections are held in 2018. But it's also possible that snap elections could be held next year.

Should that come to pass, the right-wing populist Lega Nord leader Matteo Salvini and the always outraged ex-comedian Grillo could very well be the front-runners against each other for victory. And that would be a challenge for both Italy and Europe. Because no matter who wins, it is likely they will have to run in opposition to Europe. Any other message is unlikely to lead to election victory in today's Italy.

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tph199 12/05/2016
1. brexit is brexit
Brexit is Brexit What a novel sort of exit Remainiacs try to sexit But cross the Bridge of Sighs Brexit is Brexit Whatever cometh nexit Heraclitus suggests Grexit Merkel’s eaten all the pies Brexit is Brexit Le Pen may writeth fecksit Orbanistic orgasmestic And wave their sad goodbyes
Monty Morthole 12/06/2016
"a challenge for both Italy and Europe. Because no matter who wins, it is likely they will have to run in opposition to Europe." When is Berlin going to learn that this is Italy's concern not yours (eu) nor is it the concern of this fictitious "Europe" (eu), that Germans so boorishly and robotically refer to? Can't you see that your 'eu' is hated from Gibraltar to Helsinki? You must know this, or why else would the absurd Merkel want to make it a "hate crime" to criticise the de facto "hated" 'eu'? Hatred is the only sane and healthy human reaction to such a dictatorship. How could hating the 'eu', with its record, be considered a crime?
Hugo 1977 12/07/2016
3. Democracy
Very interesting article and some great thoughts. However, how come Americans always have this misconception about them being the first democracy? There are several contenders to this title, San Marino was a republic back in 1500 and New Zealand for instance was the first country to have had universal suffrage back in 1893, long before women in the US could vote. The claim is at least debatable.
pwells1066 12/07/2016
There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures. So wrote Shakespeare in the mouth of Brutus (Act 4 Julius Caesar) Cannot the Italian leaders (and EU leaders) see that the tide of sixties liberalism has turned and they would be wise to respond to this change in the way King Canute did. (First of all accept it and then move their position to avoid being overtaken by the incoming waves.) What we do want are the good things arising from the last tide to be washed away with those things we want to see the back of. Just as oceanic tides are propelled by the forces of gravity so the forces of social tides are propelled by Expectation and Frustration. The present tide of frustration will run for many years, and if EU leaders spend their all their strength vainly trying to hold tide back this tidem they will have nothing left to steer a safe and sensible course through the newly rising tide. My advice to them would be to abandon the Euro, Develop strict criteria based on European needs only on a dramaticall reduced number of mmigrants, but allow free movement to existing citizens. Dismantle the centralised politcal structures and replace them with structures of political discourse amongst equals. Continue the standardisation of technical standards. All new immigrants to be the subject of a length naturalisation process with a commitment to the Graeco, Roman, Christian, ethos of Europe. Of course these thoughts of mine are posted without the time for reflection but I offer them free and gratis to Mrs Merkel and Mr Junker. (I do not expect a reply however as they will be too busy building a tidal barrier)
turnipseed 12/10/2016
5. Italy and corruption
Since 1945, or perhaps even longer, Italians have proven that their rule by the Popes in the Papal States wasn't the most corrupt possible. The laymen have more than beaten out the priests in corruption.
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