Renzi ral­lies as ref­er­en­dum bat­tle goes down to wire

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi heads into a makeor-break con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum this week­end in­sist­ing ev­ery­thing is still to play for in his fight to hold on to power. “Never have there been so many peo­ple un­de­cided. The ref­er­en­dum match will be de­cided in the last 48 hours,” the cen­treleft leader said in a Q and A ses­sion ses­sion on Face­book yes­ter­day. Renzi, 41, is bat­tling to defy opin­ion polls which point to his pro­pos­als to stream­line par­lia­ment be­ing re­jected.

Such an out­come is ex­pected to trig­ger the re­formist pre­mier’s res­ig­na­tion af­ter just un­der three years in of­fice and plunge the coun­try and Europe into a phase of po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty. Af­ter Bri­tain’s vote to leave the EU and Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial tri­umph in the United States, Renzi is be­ing por­trayed as next in line to suf­fer a pop­ulist back­lash from fed-up and for­got­ten vot­ers.

The nar­ra­tive has played strongly in­ter­na­tion­ally but less so in Italy, where the mer­its of the pro­posed re­form it­self have been vig­or­ously de­bated in a con­test which has also fo­cused on Renzi’s record and per­son­al­ity. At stake to­mor­row is whether to slash the size and pow­ers of the sec­ond-cham­ber Se­nate and trans­fer other pow­ers from the re­gions to the na­tional gov­ern­ment.

Renzi has vowed to quit if vot­ers re­ject changes he says will mean more ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship of a coun­try that has had 60 dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ments since the con­sti­tu­tion was ap­proved in 1948. As a re­sult, it seems cer­tain some dis­grun­tled vot­ers will vote No as a form of protest ei­ther against Renzi or over years of eco­nomic stag­na­tion.

But the pro­pos­als have also come un­der fire from op­po­nents who see them as ill-con­sid­ered and po­ten­tially open­ing the door to the kind of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule the con­sti­tu­tion is de­signed to pre­vent. “This re­form re­duces the au­ton­omy of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and it con­cen­trates too much power in the hands of the gov­ern­ment with­out the nec­es­sary checks and bal­ances,” for­mer prime min­is­ter Mas­simo D’Alema, a party col­league of Renzi’s, told AFP.

Po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally, the stakes are high. Renzi sees the emas­cu­la­tion of the sec­ond cham­ber as key to en­sur­ing dif­fi­cult but nec­es­sary leg­is­la­tion does not get blocked or de­layed in par­lia­ment while sav­ing nearly 500 mil­lion eu­ros ($532 mil­lion) a year in op­er­at­ing costs. “If you want to abol­ish the priv­i­leges of the most ex­pen­sive po­lit­i­cal caste in the world, you have to vote yes,” the youth­ful pre­mier said yes­ter­day.—AFP

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