Me­dia si­lence across Italy on eve of crunch ref­er­en­dum

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

With cam­paign­ing over, me­dia si­lence was im­posed across Italy yes­ter­day on the eve of a con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum seen as cru­cial to the fu­ture of Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi. In the fran­tic fi­nal round of cam­paign­ing which ended on Fri­day, Renzi’s do­mes­tic ri­vals vowed to knock down ref­er­en­dum pro­pos­als to stream­line par­lia­ment and force the cen­tre-left leader out of of­fice.

The prime min­is­ter is hop­ing for a last-minute turn­around in voter sen­ti­ment in favour of a “Yes” vote when Italy goes to the polls to­day. With #silen­zioelet­torale (elec­toral si­lence) widely in ev­i­dence on Twit­ter, most Ital­ians on­line were re­joic­ing at the end of a highly-charged cam­paign. Po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally, the stakes are high.

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. His pledge to quit if he loses the vote has fo­cused the cam­paign on his record, ex­ac­er­bat­ing fears of politi­cal in­sta­bil­ity and eco­nomic tur­bu­lence in the eu­ro­zone’s third-big­gest econ­omy should he be forced out.

At stake to­day 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 says this will mean more ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship of a coun­try that has had 60 dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ments since the con­sti­tu­tion was ap­proved in 1948. But it seems cer­tain some dis­grun­tled vot­ers will vote “No” as a protest-ei­ther against Renzi or the years of eco­nomic stag­na­tion. The pro­pos­als have 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.

Some 50 mil­lion Ital­ians are el­i­gi­ble to vote, with opin­ion polls show­ing many peo­ple still un­de­cided. The last per­mit­ted polls, pub­lished on Novem­ber 18, gave the “No” camp at least a five-to-eight-point lead, with more than a quar­ter of vot­ers un­de­cided.

‘Could un­der­mine democ­racy’

In the Mer­cato Tri­este, a food hall in a leafy mid­dle-class neigh­bor­hood of north­ern Rome, most of traders and shop­pers on Satur­day morn­ing ap­peared to be ei­ther op­posed to the re­form or yet to make up their minds. Egg seller Emanuela Carosi, wrap­ping free range eggs in bun­dles of news­pa­per, said she would def­i­nitely vote “No”. “The Con­sti­tu­tion was writ­ten by cho­sen peo­ple, lu­mi­nar­ies, not politi­cians like we have to­day. They are not up to it. And I’m wor­ried that it could un­der­mine our democ­racy.”

Slic­ing Wagyu beef steaks at an up­mar­ket meat counter, butcher An­to­nio Canestri said he also op­poses the re­form but may vote for it for fear of the con­se­quences. “I am afraid about what hap­pens in the event of a ‘No’. We know what we have now, we don’t know what we will find with the re­form, but I am wor­ried about the pos­si­bil­ity there could be eco­nomic chaos if the ‘No’ wins.” A large ma­jor­ity of the politi­cal class, from the far-left to the ex­treme right, have warned about the risk of con­cen­trat­ing too much power in the gov­ern­ment’s hands.

48 cru­cial hours

For­mer premier Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni ini­tially gave his bless­ing to the pro­posed re­form but switched sides as the ris­ing tide of op­po­si­tion put Renzi’s job on the line. “Go out and vote so that Renzi doesn’t be­come our boss and the boss of Italy,” he said late on Fri­day. At the same time Renzi, was cam­paign­ing in Florence, where he was for­merly mayor, urg­ing sup­port­ers to con­vince the un­de­cided. “There are so many of them and we must go and seek them out, one-by-one, be­cause ev­ery­thing will be de­cided in these 48 hours,” he said. The pos­si­bil­ity that it could turn into a tight race has en­er­gized Ital­ians abroad, for whom vot­ing ended on Thurs­day.

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