Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced his resignation, as exit polls suggested a large defeat in the referendum on cabinet-backed constitutional reform which was held on December 4.
“The experience of my government clearly ends here. Tomorrow afternoon, I will gather the cabinet to thank my ministers, and later go to the Quirinale (the presidential palace) to resign,” Renzi said at a press conference. A total of 59.11 per cent of Italians voted against Renzi’s proposed reforms, compared with 40.89 per cent in favour in Sunday’s referendum on constitutional reforms to overhaul the country’s political machinery.
“The vote turnout exceeded all expectations and the ‘No’ has won in a clear way,” the Prime Minister said. Provisional data from the Interior Ministry showed over 65 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots, which was a very high turnout by Italian standards in a popular referendum. The major amendment proposed was to cut the size of the senate to 100 from 315 seats, and strip it off the power to bring down the cabinet with no-confidence sessions and vote on national legislation.
The referendum was also seen as a key test of popularity for Renzi’s centre-left cabinet. Italian President Sergio Mattarella and party leaders have started talks over how to form a transitional government after Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned on December 7. Mattarella has asked the Renzi government to remain in charge of day-to-day business while he launches consultations with the country’s main political forces in an effort to lead the country out of the impasse to form the interim government.
“Italy is a great country with a lot of positive energy. This is also why we need the political climate to
be calm and respectful,” Mattarella said. Turnout was relatively high at 65.47 per cent in the referendum whose reforms would have given the central government greater powers by reining in the Senate upper house of parliament and Italy’s regions.
Mattarella praised the high referendum turnout “as proof of a solid democracy, of a passionate country, capable of active participation” in politics.
Fresh parliamentary elections are due in Italy in 2018 but the populist anti-establishment Five Star movement and the anti-immigrant Northern League are calling for fresh elections immediately. “We will start online voting next week on a programme of government followed by a proposed cabinet line-up,” Five-Star leader Beppe Grillo wrote on his blog.
“Italians must be called to the ballot-box immediately,” he said.
Former Premier and conservative Forza Italia party leader Silvio Berlusconi voted against the proposed constitutional reforms but could form an alliance with the same centre-left majority currently backing Renzi, according to observers.
In a brief address to the executive of his centre-left Democratic Party, Renzi said the future holds two alternatives - either a broad coalition government to steer the country through the end of the current legislature in 2018 or early elections as soon as the Constitutional Court pronounces itself on ‘Italicum’ electoral law.