Youth for change? Not in Naples as Italy vote looms

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

NAPLES, Italy: As the youngest leader of a G7 econ­omy, Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi would seem to have youth and time on his side. But lis­ten to young peo­ple in Naples and it can ap­pear that the fresh-faced, 41year-old has nei­ther.

One week short of a ref­er­en­dum on con­sti­tu­tional re­form on which he has staked his fu­ture, Renzi’s mes­sage of mod­ern­iz­ing change is largely falling on deaf ears in the cap­i­tal of Italy’s long-ne­glected south. “How ex­actly will it change our lives?” snorts Gaia Ievoli, 20, when asked what she thinks of Renzi’s pro­posal to stream­line Italy’s par­lia­ment by dras­ti­cally cur­tail­ing the pow­ers of the sec­ond cham­ber, the Se­nate, while shrink­ing its mem­ber­ship and run­ning costs.

Vot­ing for the first time, Ievoli in­sists she will cast her bal­lot in sup­port of a ‘No’ cam­paign whose lead­ers have grown in­creas­ingly con­fi­dent of em­u­lat­ing Brexit and Don­ald Trump’s tri­umphs to make it a 2016 hat-trick of re­buffs for the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment.

As Ievoli sees it, con­sti­tu­tional fine-tun­ing is far from be­ing an ob­vi­ous pri­or­ity in a coun­try where high unem­ploy­ment and de­clin­ing real in­comes have left the younger gen­er­a­tion fac­ing worse liv­ing stan­dards than those en­joyed by their par­ents, and prompted tens of thou­sands of em­i­grate in re­cent years. “More job se­cu­rity for the young” would be top of her to do list, says the wait­ress, cur­rently wait­ing to learn if her down­town bar will take her on per­ma­nently.

A few less se­na­tors “isn’t re­ally go­ing to change things,” she says.

Fed­er­ica Ni­cosia, 25, con­sid­ers her­self rel­a­tively lucky be­cause she has man­aged to ob­tain a prized steady job on a per­ma­nent con­tract in a nearby cafe­te­ria. But she says the pre­vail­ing mood is one of bit­ter­ness with the way things are go­ing, and is not even sure she will bother to vote. “I don’t know yet. I will prob­a­bly make up my mind at the last minute once I have found out some­thing about this re­form, which seems too com­pli­cated to me and not re­ally de­signed for us.” Renzi’s pro­pos­als for the Se­nate are de­signed to go hand-in-hand with a new elec­toral re­form law de­signed to en­sure elec­tions pro­duce win­ners with clear ma­jori­ties.

As he sees it, it is about mod­ern­iz­ing Italy, putting an end to en­dem­i­cally weak ad­min­is­tra­tions and log­jams in par­lia­ment which have stymied equally over­due re­forms in ar­eas rang­ing from ed­u­ca­tion and the snail­paced ju­di­cial sys­tem to the fight against cor­rup­tion and or­ga­nized crime.

He has urged vot­ers not to “waste this chance to change Italy”. But ac­cord­ing to Elena Pic­colo, a 21-year-old stu­dent of Clas­si­cal Lit­er­a­ture at the city’s Fed­erico II univer­sity, the bullish young leader made a fa­tal mis­take in mak­ing the ref­er­en­dum all about him with his sug­ges­tions he could walk away from pol­i­tics if the out­come goes against him. “Renzi was wrong to per­son­al­ize the bal­lot, which he did from the be­gin­ning by say­ing he would re­sign if the No camp won,” Pic­colo said. “By do­ing that he sim­ply made him­self a fo­cus for all the dis­en­chant­ment in the coun­try, in­clud­ing that of young peo­ple,” she added, con­firm­ing that she plans to vote No.

One third un­de­cided

Like many young Ital­ians, Pic­colo says she has no con­fi­dence in the tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal forces in the coun­try but ad­mits to be­ing at­tracted by the “dif­fer­ent voice” of the Five Star Move­ment, the pop­ulist party that was cre­ated by comic Beppe Grillo only seven years ago but has es­tab­lished it­self as the big­gest ri­val to Renzi’s cen­tre-left Demo­cratic Party. “I think we should give them a chance at run­ning the coun­try,” the stu­dent says.

Re­cent opin­ion polls have given the No side of the ar­gu­ment a clear lead and vot­ers un­der 34 ap­pear to be the most strongly op­posed, although sur­veys also in­di­cate that over a third of vot­ers are un­de­cided.

And while a vic­tory for the No camp would be ex­pected to trig­ger Renzi’s res­ig­na­tion, most an­a­lysts are not fore­cast­ing im­me­di­ate elec­tions with a reshuf­fled cen­tre-left ad­min­is­tra­tion tipped to con­tinue at least un­til the end of next year. “It seems para­dox­i­cal that it is young peo­ple that are most strongly op­posed to this re­form - but not all change is for the bet­ter,” says Anna Basile, a 22-year-old stu­dent. But not ev­ery­one in Naples is on the No side. Young elec­tri­cian An­to­nio Me­dugno says he will be back­ing Renzi with a Yes vote. “Some­thing has to change in this coun­try,” he says. “And if this ref­er­en­dum is an op­por­tu­nity to do that, we have to take it, be­cause who knows when we will get the chance again.” —AFP

ROME: Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi ad­dresses sup­port­ers dur­ing a “Basta un Si” rally call­ing for a “Yes” vote to the up­com­ing con­sti­tu­tional re­form ref­er­en­dum at the Fuk­sas’ Cloud Con­ven­tion Cen­tre on Novem­ber 26, 2016. —AFP

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