Referendum in Italy: Italian Democracy vs. Renzi?


December 2, 2016 – 

By Silvia Missotti for Fort Russ – c.e. by J. Arnoldski – 

Silvia Missotti, the Russia correspondent for the Italian publication “L’Opinione Pubblica”, has generously written this article exclusively for Fort Russ on the upcoming referendum in Italy. 

On December 4th, Italy will hold a referendum concerning the modification of the Constitution proposed by the government (the PD party and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi). The reform has already been approved by the Parliament in the past two years, but it will be valid only if the referendum confirms it. In the current system, the Italian Parliament consists of two Chambers (the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies), both of them having the same power to approve or modify proposed laws and to pass a vote of no confidence on the government. If the proposed referendum question is approved, then the Senate will see a drastic reduction of its Senators (only 100 out of 315 remain) with much more limited functions. Moreover, the referendum proposes the following main modifications:

  • the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies will act together only concerning the laws about the territories;
  • the abolition of the Institutional Council for Economy and Work (CNEL), which is of no real effect;
  • the abolition of the Provinces, dividing their functions between the municipalities and the metropolitan cities;
  • modifications regarding the rules to institute a referendum proposed by citizens;
  • reduction of the number of parliamentarians, with the consequential reduction of their costs. In particular, the new Senators will remain in charge without retribution;
  • Senators will no longer have the power to pass a vote of no confidence on the government.

The main opposition parties (Movimento Cinque Stelle, Lega Nord, Forza Italia, and Sinistra Ecologia Libertà) have raised the following motivations for not approving the referendum:

  • unclear definition of the criteria required to select the laws drawn to the attention of both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. This will delay the process of the approval of the laws;
  • both chambers will still have to approve many categories of laws;
  • there are perplexities about the reduction of the functions of the Senators, with consequent unclear definition of their duties;
  • it is claimed that the long time required to approve new laws is due to political debates rather than to procedural reasons. This is supposed to mean that there will be no substantial difference after the approval of the referendum;
  • it is claimed that the Senators will no longer be elected by the citizens, with the consequent reduction of democracy and a further gap between citizens and institutions;
  • it is claimed that parliamentary immunity will be granted to the Senators, with the consequent possibility of safeguarding some of the representatives of the main parties of the government, as they affirm that the parties having major strength on the territory will have the control of the Senate;
  • the Prime Minister can quickly ask for the approval of certain laws, applying a special procedure. Also in this case, democracy will be reduced, as the Prime Minister will have more power;
  • the cost savings deriving from the the new constitutional order will be negligible;
  • the Regions will loose a portion of their power over the territory which will be passed to the central government.

The majority of newspapers outside of Italy support the approval of the referendum. In the case of disapproval of the referendum, the current Italian government might fall. In fact, at the beginning of the referendum campaign, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi claimed more than once that he will resign in case of its disapproval. The options in this case are many, though the most probable would be the institution of a temporary government to formulate a new law for elections. If the government falls, it is up to the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, to consult the leaders of the main parties and then to nominate a new Prime Minister. 

Many parties seem to be using the opportunity of the referendum to give their support to or to oppose the government of Matteo Renzi without discussing the real points proposed by the referendum.

Many Italian citizens are participating in the referendum campaign, and even action committees have been formed and are very active through the Italian media. Famous figures (journalists, politicians, magistrates, writers, actors, singers etc.) in Italy are actively taking part in the committees and the campaign.

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During the campaign, the opinion polls have shown different fluctuations in public opinion. Even now, a few days before voting, it seems that both the “YES” and the “NO” are on the same level. In particular, voting “YES” is more diffused among people above 55 years of age, while most of the younger people are for “NO”. Italian citizens living abroad number more than 3 million, and their vote is going to be decisive for the final result. Votes will be casted on Sunday, December 4th, between 7 am and 11 pm local time. 

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