Italy’s political instability is notorious. The country has seen 63 governments since 1945 and politicians from all parties have called for reform to the system for many years.
But now that reforms, deemed the most significant in Italy since World War II, are actually on the table, everything’s got rather confusing. Left- and right-wing parties have joined forces to oppose Prime Minister Matteo Renzi; there are splits within his own Democratic Party; and global media are comparing the referendum with Brexit and Donald Trump’s election, with some raising fears of a negative economic impact and even a possible “Italexit”.
So how did we get here?
Let’s take a look at the causes, developments and likely consequences of the December 4th referendum.
First thing’s first. Why is Italy holding a referendum?
The aim is to make Italy’s government more stable and efficient through a set of significant changes to Italy’s constitution.
The changes would see the country move from a perfect ‘bicameral’ system (where its Chamber of Deputies and Senate are totally equal) to a new system with reduced powers for the Senate, and a redefinition of powers between local and central institutions.
This would mean that the Senate would be less involved in law-making (currently laws have to be passed by both chambers, which leads to a lot of to-ing and fro-ing), and that the government would have slightly more control over the regions.
The number of senators would be slashed from 315 to 100, and rather than being elected, they would be picked by the government from regional councils.
As for why this complicated question is being decided by the public, Renzi didn’t have a choice in that.
Although the changes were passed by the Italian parliament earlier this year, the majority was too small for them to go ahead without a public vote.
So what are the arguments for and against?
Reformers say their changes will make Italy more efficient. Opponents say they’ll remove vital checks and balances.
Renzi argues that governments would be more stable under the proposed reforms, with leaders practically guaranteed to serve a full term once elected and less money spent on politicians’ salaries and bureaucracy.
But critics argue that the reforms are inconsistent and would leave the PM with too much power, the very situation the bicameral system was put in place to prevent.
More significantly however, the fact that the real-world impact of the changes is hard to explain means that the referendum has instead become a vote on the status quo – and on Renzi himself.
The country’s opposition parties on the left and right, as well as some from Renzi’s own Democratic Party, are encouraging supporters to vote ‘No’ to make a statement against Renzi.