Italy PM Renzi concedes defeat, set to resign after decisive ‘No’ vote in constitutional referendum

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi says he takes full responsibility for the crashing defeat at the referendum he proposed, which would have reduced the powers of the Senate. Renzi intends to send in his resignation on Monday.

“The experience of my government ends here,” Renzi said in a televised news conference, adding that his defeat was “extraordinarily clear.”

“I have lost and I say it out loud,” he said.

“Tomorrow I will gather the Council of Ministers, and I will go to the Quirinal Palace to resign,” Renzi said, confirming his plans to tender his resignation to the country’s president, Sergio Mattarella.

According to Italy’s Interior Ministry, some 70 percent of Italy’s eligible voters took part in the referendum, after more than two-thirds of polling stations reported their results. An exit poll conducted by the Piepoli Institute/IPR for RAI television estimated that 40.9 percent voted “Yes,” while 59.1 percent voted “No.” RAI projections indicate that voters in only three of Italy’s 20 regions cast ballots to approve the reform, while in 17 regions the proposal was rejected. 

Ahead of the referendum vote, Renzi promised that he would step down if his proposed constitutional reform was not approved.

While the referendum result will be widely seen as a personal failure for Renzi, it is also being perceived as a heavy blow to EU bureaucratic elites.

RT’s Paula Slier talked to voters in Rome, who shared the notion of this being a vote more broadly linked to EU policies.

“The mainstream media is likely to present this as a personal defeat, a vote of [no] confidence against Renzi and against the leadership. But it should be seen as a much more symbolic vote… it is also a vote against the European Union, against the EU policies and against the EU establishment,” Slier said, citing voters’ opinions.

The founder of the populist Five Star Movement, former comedian Beppe Grillo, who campaigned against Renzi’s proposed reform, arguing that it could undermine political balance in the country, said that “democracy has won,” praising the vote.

“Times have changed,” Grillo said in a statement. “Sovereignty belongs to the people, now we are starting to really apply our Constitution. The main winners are the citizens who raised their heads and went to vote en masse, forgetting about the TV and newspapers, to reject the Constitutional reform.” The Five Star Movement leader called for snap elections to be held “as soon as possible.”

Renzi’s plan to limit the Senate's powers has drawn strong criticism from the Italian opposition. Matteo Salvini, of the right-wing Northern League, hailed the “No” vote, calling it a “victory of the people against the strong powers of three-quarters of the world.”

France’s far-right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, has also welcomed the Italian referendum result, congratulating “our friend” Salvini, who shares his Eurosceptic stance with Le Pen, on the “victory.”

Rome’s first female mayor, Virginia Raggi, who hails from Grillo’s Five Star Movement, welcomed the “No” result, saying that “our revolution does not stop, in Rome and in Italy.”

“Italians have won. Now we rebuild the country,” she wrote on Twitter.

The proposed legislation envisaged a significant reduction in the powers of the Senate, the upper house of the Italian parliament. Under Italy’s 1948 constitution, both chambers of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, have equal importance in the adoption of any legislation. Before a bill can be made into law, it has to be passed by both chambers.

Italy’s current legislative system was devised in the years after WWII. The wartime years also saw the toppling of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The new Constitution, introduced in 1948, granted the two chambers of parliament equal powers, aiming to prevent dictatorships from taking over in the future.

READ MORE: Italy divided as voters take part in key constitutional referendum on parliamentary powers

However, the system has not been functioning smoothly, as the government was often caught in a deadlock, unable to implement crucial reforms. Renzi’s proposal was aimed at dismantling this system and enabling reform to go ahead. 

The constitutional amendment put forward by Renzi would have capped the power of the Senate so the government would no longer need its approval on an array of laws, including budget issues.

The Senate was set to lose much of its authority with the number of senators reduced from 315 to 100, and 95 of those would be appointed by regional assemblies.

‘Renzi failed to take his radical rhetoric on migration to EU meetings’

Italian journalist Marchello Foa told RT that Renzi’s inability to deliver on the promises of radical change and standing up to the EU resulted in his popular approval slipping away.

“The problem with Mr. Renzi is that he was very popular at the beginning of his mandate, but he has been promising too much and people are now realizing that… a big part of the things he says are not coming true,” Foa said, adding that “a large part” of Italian population “does not trust him anymore.”

He argued that Renzi lost credibility as a strong leader after he repeatedly failed to take his rather aggressive public rhetoric on migration to actual EU meetings, “giving up his opposition every time.”

Renzi appeared to have sharpened his rhetoric on the EU immigration issue, claiming in October that Italy would "put veto the future European budget" if the bloc does not come together to tackle the problem. He also said Italy "will not handle" a similar influx of migrants in 2017, estimating that the government has "six months" to deal with it.

Foa believes that the same factors that have triggered Brexit in the UK and contributed to Donald Trump’s victory in the US elections – that is overall dissatisfaction with mainstream politicians – played a role in Renzi’s downfall.

“The sentiment is that now the governments do not perform well, too many people are unemployed, people lose control over their destiny,” Foa said, adding that people want “radical change” and “do not trust the establishment anymore.”

“Mr. Renzi, himself, used to propose such radical change, but like it happened with Tsipras in Greece, for example, he was unable to fulfill his promises,” he said.

READ MORE: European markets down ahead of Italian referendum