Italy may be next to feel anti-establishment anger
rome» Amid a global wave of anti-establishment anger, Italy may be the next in line for upheaval after a Sunday referendum that could topple Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and cast the nation into political crisis.
With Britain quitting the European Union and Donald Trump headed to the White House, Italy’s antiimmigrant Five Star Movement, led by a caustic comedian-turned-politician, is poised to capitalize on voter anger over a stagnant economy and a surge in migration from North Africa.
If Italians reject constitutional reforms championed by Renzi, he has vowed to resign, opening the door to a gust of financial uncertainty that could set off an Italian banking crisis. A defeat for Renzi would also embolden populists across Europe, where elections in France and Germany next year threaten to deliver Euroskeptics as leaders of the bulwarks of European unity.
And in Italy, the Five Star Movement, within spitting distance of Renzi’s Democratic Party in the polls, would have a shot at the prime minister’s office in elections due no later than 2018. Even if Renzi prevails Sunday, the populists could still be poised to overtake him at the next election.
“What happened in America could also happen in Italy,” said Giulia Grillo, a leader of the Five Star Movement in the lower house of Italy’s Parliament. “There is something that is happening in the world. It’s a reaction to globalization. It’s a reaction to external political power that was not so visible in the past.”
A “no” vote in Sunday’s referendum would not quite be Italy’s Brexit moment, because in theory it would simply reject a package of constitutional changes designed to shake up a chaotic political system that has had 63 governments in the past 70 years. But the moment has turned into an up-down vote on Renzi’s 2½-year-old premiership, as opponents seek to seize on his political weakness.
A Renzi rejection would be a boost for Italy’s burgeoning Five Star Movement, which has capitalized on voter discontent to sweep into mayor’s offices in Turin and Rome and vowed to conduct a referendum on Italy’s membership in the euro currency the moment it captures the prime minister’s office.
For now, the outcome of the referendum is too close to call. Polls published before a two-week blackout period gave “no” a slight lead, but Renzi and his allies are gambling that a lastminute campaign push will tip them over the finish line.
What is certain, however, is that the race has deeply split the country.
Even some of Renzi’s allies in his center-left Democratic Party have abandoned him, as have other establishment grandees, including several past prime ministers.
They say the laws are poorly written and would create as many problems as they try to fix.