Italy may be next to feel anti-es­tab­lish­ment anger

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Michael Burn­baum

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.

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