December 15, 2016
On Monday December 5, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced to the public that he would resign from his position after suffering a clear defeat in the constitutional reform referendum held the day before. This leaves Italy, Europe’s fourth largest economy, in a bit of a political limbo. Not that they haven’t been there before; Italy’s government has collapsed many times since the end of WWII. Most Italians don’t bat an eye when this occurs, and business normally buzzes along at a fairly steady pace. However, this resignation came as a shock to the West, and has been yet another blow to the general politics of Europe.
A referendum, in the Italian legal system is a request directed to the whole electorate to express their view on a determined question. It is the main instrument of direct democracy in Italy. Renzi proposed this particular referendum to advocate for constitutional change that would have given the lower and the upper house of the Italian parliament equal powers. His stated goal was to make Italy more stable and governable, although many believe that the referendum’s actual objectives were politically motivated. Whatever the rationale, Renzi’s coalition had been collapsing for the last couple of years so something had to be done. Unfortunately, according to Sputnik News, most Italians had no clue what they were voting for on December 4. Voter turnout was average, with about two-thirds or 33 million Italians coming out to the polls. Over 59 percent voted “No”, which basically leaves things the way they were and perpetuates what Renzi calls an “unworkable system”.
Renzi told his followers not to take it personally, while himself delivering an emotional departure speech. He says that he “take[s] full responsibility for the defeat”, and that he will “greet [his] successor with a smile and a hug, whoever it might be.” Renzi had a hard time containing himself as he thanked his wife and children for their continued support.
Most Americans who knew anything about the proposed reforms were “pro”. That includes President Obama, who hoped that the decision would not affect Renzi’s time in office. However, Renzi specified that if his idea to centralize power and reduce the roll of the senate was voted down, he would resign. His successor, Paolo Gentiloni, took the reins on December 12. Italy’s new prime minister is the country’s fourth successive head of government without an electoral mandate, rendering the political system of Italy increasingly fragile.