Italy’s 5-star tours EU in bid to sink Renzi’s ref­er­en­dum

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

ROME: A month away from a ref­er­en­dum on con­sti­tu­tional re­form that could sink the gov­ern­ment, Italy’s largest op­po­si­tion party wants to make sure Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi is not saved by the votes of Ital­ians abroad. Luigi Di Maio, one of the most prom­i­nent faces of the anti-es­tab­lish­ment 5-Star Move­ment, heads to Lon­don on Tues­day to kick off a 10-day cam­paign against the ref­er­en­dum that will also take him to Madrid, Brussels, Paris and Berlin.

5-Star, whose ap­peal is based on a drive against the cor­rup­tion that has tainted Italy’s pol­i­tics for decades, has good rea­son to be wary of the army of 3 mil­lion ex­pa­tri­ates who the right to vote. The mav­er­ick group was the most voted party in Italy at the last na­tional elec­tion in 2013, but af­ter the bal­lots were counted from Ital­ians liv­ing abroad it was over­taken by the Demo­cratic Party (PD), al­low­ing it to lead a new gov­ern­ment. Di Maio, a 30-year-old par­lia­men­tar­ian widely ex­pected to be 5-Star’s can­di­date for prime min­is­ter at the next elec­tion due in 2018, aims to avoid a re­peat per­for­mance with the ref­er­en­dum.

“We want to ex­plain the risks of this re­form to Ital­ians abroad be­cause if ‘Yes’ wins we will never get rid of the po­lit­i­cal class that forced them to em­i­grate,” he told Reuters in an in­ter­view. Ital­ians faced with a chron­i­cally stag­nant econ­omy and a lack of work have been em­i­grat­ing in grow­ing num­bers in re­cent years. Some 107,000 moved abroad in 2015, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data, but the ac­tual fig­ure is be­lieved to be much higher.

Renzi says his plan to re­duce dras­ti­cally the role of the Se­nate and curb the pow­ers of re­gional gov­ern­ments will sim­plify de­ci­sion-mak­ing and en­sure sta­ble gov­ern­ment. Op­po­nents say it will ac­tu­ally make the leg­isla­tive process more com­pli­cated and re­duce checks and bal­ances. “This re­form will give more power to the peo­ple who have brought our coun­try to the state it is in,” said Di Maio, whose party is roughly level with the PD ac­cord­ing to re­cent polls. Ear­lier this year Renzi re­peat­edly said he would re­sign if he lost the Dec. 4 ref­er­en­dum. In the last two months he has de­clined to con­firm that, say­ing dis­cus­sion of his own fu­ture de­flected at­ten­tion from the merits of the re­form. “If he loses we will ask Renzi to keep his prom­ise and the Ital­ians will ask him to keep his prom­ise,” said Di Maio, who is viewed as the moder­ate face of the move­ment cre­ated by fire­brand co­me­dian Beppe Grillo in 2009.

Renzi’s strug­gle

With all the op­po­si­tion par­ties lined up against the re­form, Renzi faces an up­hill strug­gle. Of 33 opin­ion polls pub­lished in the last month, all but one has put ‘No’ ahead. How­ever, with around a quar­ter of vot­ers still un­de­cided, poll­sters say the re­sult re­mains highly uncertain. More­over, the polls do not in­clude Ital­ians liv­ing abroad. Poll­sters ex­pect less than a third of th­ese to cast a bal­lot, but they say of those that do, most will prob­a­bly vote ‘Yes’. In a very tight race this could be cru­cial.

The metic­u­lous Di Maio is likely to have a tough task con­vinc­ing ex­pats such as Ste­fano Greco, a 27-year-old from Si­cily who has been in Lon­don for 15 months do­ing a post-grad­u­ate de­gree at the Lon­don Busi­ness School. “I will vote ‘Yes’, be­cause liv­ing abroad you see even more clearly how slow and bu­reau­cratic Italy is, and my im­pres­sion is that the re­form will help to make things sim­pler,” he said.

The 2013 elec­tion was just the lat­est to turn on Ital­ians abroad. In 2006, it was the for­eign vote that gave cen­tre-left leader Ro­mano Prodi his ma­jor­ity in the up­per house Se­nate. 5-Star is not the only party wooing Italy’s em­i­grants. Re­forms Min­is­ter Maria Elena Boschi re­cently toured Ar­gentina, Brazil and Uruguay to win sup­port for ‘Yes’, while the right-wing North­ern League is also send­ing a se­nior politi­cian to South Amer­ica this month to whip up the ‘No’ vote. Fed­erico Benini, head of polling agency Win­poll, fore­cast that around 300,000 Ital­ians abroad would vote, or roughly 10 per­cent. That com­pares with 30 per­cent at the 2013 na­tional elec­tion and just 3 per­cent at the 2014 Euro­pean elec­tion. Of those that cast a bal­lot, he said he ex­pected up to 80 per­cent to back ‘Yes’ be­cause they fol­low Ital­ian pol­i­tics less closely, tend to be less anti-Renzi and see it as broadly pos­i­tive that the coun­try is try­ing to re­form.

Benini es­ti­mated that if ‘Yes’ is less than one per­cent­age point be­hind among do­mes­tic vot­ers, the re­sult could be over­turned by those res­i­dent abroad. Di Maio said 5-Star had its own pro­pos­als for amend­ing the con­sti­tu­tion, such as tak­ing away par­lia­men­tar­i­ans’ im­mu­nity from ar­rest and re­mov­ing the pro­vi­sion that Italy must bal­ance its bud­get each year, which in any case it has never re­spected. “We are cer­tainly not against change,” he said. “But change is not al­ways good, and by say­ing no to this re­form we are try­ing to save Italy from a change for the worse.”

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