Rome: Matteo Renzi was roundly defeated in a referendum to change Italy’s constitution, marking a major victory for anti-establishment and rightwing parties and plunging the eurozone’s third largest economy into political chaos.
Analysis Referendum result may lead nowhere for Italy’s Five Star and Northern League
It is clear that many Italians who voted no in the referendum would not support either party in a general election
The prime minister conceded defeat in an emotional speech at his residence, Palazzo Chigi, and said he would submit his resignation to Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, on Monday afternoon.
“My experience in government ends here … I did all I could to bring this to victory,” Renzi said. “If you fight for an idea, you cannot lose.”
It was a not an unexpected defeat but it was nevertheless a humiliating one, with about 60% of Italians voting against the proposed reforms, which would have made sweeping changes to Italy’s constitution and parliamentary system. Pointing to the high voter turnout – about 68% of eligible voters cast ballots in the referendum – Renzi said the vote represented a “feast of democracy”.
The outcome was a major victory for the populist Five Star Movement, which led opposition to the reform, and the xenophobic Northern League. The parties are not traditional allies but locked arms to take on Renzi in the hope – now realised – of driving him out of office. Weeks ago both party leaders, Beppe Grillo and Matteo Salvini, were exuberant in the face of Donald Trump’s victory in the US, with Grillo claiming it represented a big “fuck you” to the political establishment.
Indeed, just moments after the exit polls established that Renzi was heading to an embarrassing loss, Salvini took to Twitter to heap praise on Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and “La Lega”, as the Northern League is known.
The victory for no could have profound consequences for Italy and will probably rattle European and global markets because of concerns about the country’s economic future and evident support of populist and Eurosceptic parties. It may also prompt worries about plans by a consortium of banks to rescue Banca Monte dei Paschi of Siena, as some investors said they feared that a victory for no could destabilise the banking sector.
The result will be seen as a clear rejection by voters of establishment politics in favour of populist and anti-immigrant forces, much as the UK’s vote in June to leave the European Union and the election last month of Donald Trump in the US were. But that could be an oversimplification of the results. Many voters interviewed by the Guardian in the weeks leading up to the vote – including those who said they were to the left of Renzi and not supporters of Grillo or Salvini – expressed concern about the proposed changes to the constitution. The proposed reforms, in effect, neutered the senate and would have given much more power to Renzi and future prime ministers.