4 december 2016 and its aftermath

This day will be a very important moment of Italian politics. A referendum will take place to decide whether people want to change the Constitution or not. If the amended Constitution is accepted, the way the country is ruled and managed (politically, economically and socially speaking) will be altered. So, it is not an easy decision that the Italian people are facing.

First, I would like to draw a very quick description of the Italian political system. The leader of the country is the Prime Minister who is normally elected by the people (Renzi was not elected…) There is also the honorific title of President (generally, it is a very old man who becomes President) The Parliament is made of two chambers: la Camera (the Chamber of Deputies) and il Senato (the Senate). These two chambers have the particularity to have similar powers. It is a completely symetric bicameralism. You have also a check and balance between the nationl governement and the regions which are very powerful in Italy. Some regions have actually more autonomy than others. This attachment to regional power  is due to the late unification of the country in 1871 after the long post-napoleonic movement called ‘il Risorgimento’ (1815-1871). Being Italian is a fairly new concept. 

Let’s go back to the Constitution. Why this referendum? This new constitution is the project of two  main politicians: Matteo Renzi, the Prime Minister (Premier in Italian), and Maria Elena Boschi, the Minister in charge of constitutional amendments and reforms.

This project is meant to stabilise and clarify Italian politics and governing bodies. For the past years, Italy has lived through periods of economic dismay and political disarray showing the lack of strength of the current political system. The most blatant examble of this unstability is the fact that Italy has known 67 different governments on the course of 70 years. This is why Matteo Renzi wants to amend the constitution. Well, it is the reason he gives anyway. 

The referendum for ‘Sì o No’ may have the same impact than Brexit on intern politics if it does not go according to the government’s plan. Indeed, Matteo Renzi has already announced his will resign if the people vote ‘No'(Cameron had to resign after the big fall out caused by Brexit) So, it appears that this referendum has been driven by more personal purposes than admitted. This vote will determine the level of trust Italian people feel towards the government, and Renzi more particularly. 

I am actually sad to say that I have not yet discussed with someone who supports the changes to the Constitution. Even in the street, I have not found a single poster or leaflet supporting the ‘Sì’. I will try to be as impartial as King Solomon! Here is a factual list of both sides’ opinions.

Why voting ‘Sì’ according to the Constitutionalists (partisans of the new Constitution):

  • Italy will get rid of its symetric but archaic bicameralism (it is the last country in Europe to have a perfect balance between the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate) It means, among other things, that reforms and bills will be passed quicker as the Senate will not have the power to decide any more. It will also make the Chamber of Deputies more efficient and seen as more powerful and active.
  • Reduction of Parlementaries means that less money will be spent on politicians.
  • Stability: the majority will be easier to reach ensuring a total support to the Prime Minister. A government will only need 40 % to get a majority. Moreover, it will enforce a new understanding and support between the government and the Chamber of Deputies.
  • It will put in check regionalism and local ambitions. Everything will be done on the National level giving unity to the country. Solidary regions will be rewarded.The changes will make sure that local political organs and their roles and duties are clarified. With the ‘Supremacy Clause’, the national goverment will be able to rule over the regions.
  • The ‘Referendum Propositivo’ will increase democracy as people will be able to choose.
  • It will reorganise remunerations according to ceilings for regional bodies meaning that savings will be made.

Why voting ‘No’ according to opponents of the changes:

  • Asymetric bicameralism will weaken democratic rights and values.
  • Democracy will also be weakened by the fact that senators will not be voted directly any more. Senators will be mayors chosen by their party. People will not have a say about who is going to represent them. They are also afraid this will cause dubious and untrustworthy politicians to be named (thus saving their neck from judiciary complaints)……
  • A stronger national government is against democracy. With the changes, it gains more power without any political body to keep it in check. The fact that Majority is more easily reached will mean that one party and one leader will be able to reform without further support. It could lead to authoritarianism. The ‘Supremacy Clause’ is given as an example.
  • Stability will actually be prevented as the new system will create uncertainty, conflict and resentment between the State and the regions, and also between the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. 
  • The country will not actually save money.
  • 150.000 are now necessary to present a bill from the people (against 50.000 before).

The Constitutionalists say that the new changes are not perfect, but that anything is better than what they have now. The opponents use this argument to counteract the changes and say that the changes are not good enough to be accepted. Some people think that changing the Constitution is a preposterous idea as the country has been working ‘well’ for the past 45 years. Nevertheless, most people favour a new political system. Just not this one.

It appears like the changes to the Constitution were favoured a few months ago. Now, it is more open. I will update the article when the results are given.

UPDATE 05/12/2016

The NO has won. Renzi has resigned as he said he would. 

Yesterday, a good 65% of Italian people attended the polling stations. This is an incredible percentage of voters for Italy if you take into account that Italians had showed a lack of interest in voting these past few years and deserted the polling places.

Almost 60% of voters chose to vote for the NO. This number shows how little confidence and trust the people had in the amended constitution, and therefore in the Government. These past few weeks, Renzi went from city to city trying to convince voters that changes were necessary. He even created new benefits and advantages for people, and said he would withdraw them if he lost.He played with fire, and this carrot-and-stick method has not been fruitful. This is a humiliating defeat conceded by Renzi which is putting the country into chaos.At the minute, no one knows what is going to happen.

The apolitical movement Cinque Stelle led by Pepe Grillo and La Lega managed by far-right politician Matteo Salvini are welcoming this news with great joy and hope. They had unusually accepted to fight together for the rejection of the new constitution. This unconventional union has proved beneficial for both parties.

Now, depending on what is going to happen in Italy and who will become the new leader, there may be talks of a referendum to get Italy out of the EU.

People who voted NO had various reasons to do so. Some people just did not trust the governement especially Renzi who was clearly not popular. Others said that they were afraid of the lack of power balance which would have been caused by the new constitution.

Let’s again wait and see for the unfolding events.

Politically yours,
I M Gullivering.


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