Italy to vote on amending constitution

Rome, Dec 2 (IANS) Italians will go to the polls on Sunday to vote in a referendum on whether or not the country should amend its 1948 constitution.

The referendum is the brainchild of the country’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, 41, who wants to defang the upper house of parliament, the Senato, by cutting its numbers from 315 to 100, thus reducing its powers dramatically, CNN reported.

Proponents of the referendum say the goal is to make the job of governing Italy less complicated.

By allowing the cabinet to push through legislation in a reasonable time frame, Italy would become more efficient, productive and prosperous while simultaneously becoming less bureaucratic and bound up in red tape.

According to a study, incomes of 97 per cent of Italians have not gone up in a decade. The country’s GDP has not really budged since the late 1990s.

Some opponents say the proposed reforms do not go far enough, while others fear that a weakened Senate will eliminate an important check on power.

“Foreigners think life in Italy is like walking on water,” CNN quoted an Italian woman in Rome as saying. “But we are really dragging ourselves through a swamp.”

If “No” wins, it will send all the wrong signals to foreign investors and financial markets that Italy is simply unwilling to reform and to tear down its great wall of red tape.

If the referendum fails and Renzi makes good on his vow to resign, Italy will plunge headlong into a period of political instability.

Many Italian banks already teetering on the edge of bankruptcy could come crashing down, leading to a domino effect that will spread to the rest of Europe.

If Renzi steps down, others could come to power through early elections — including the loud-and foul-mouthed comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement.

Grillo, much like US President-elect Donald Trump, has capitalised on widespread disaffection with the status quo.

His movement, founded in 2009, now appears to garner almost as much support as Renzi’s centre-left Partito Democratico.

The Five Star Movement, which refuses to call itself a party and won key mayoral elections in Turin and Rome earlier this year, is at best Euroskeptic — at worst Eurocidal.

Observers fear that if Grillo comes to power in an early election, he will call a referendum to scrap the euro, go back to the Italian lira, and perhaps even follow Britain out of the EU.

For Italy — one of the original participants in the experiment in European unity — to pull the plug on the EU would be fatal.

While the media is alarmed about the prospect of a “No” victory, many Italians are surprisingly blase about the potential consequences.

“Italy will not finish at all after this referendum,” Massimo Franco, a columnist for the daily Corriere della Sera, said, “whatever the outcome”.

Italian law bans the publication of poll results in the final two weeks before any vote, but the last polls indicated that “No” is leading “Si” by at least five per cent — although nearly 15 per cent of those who say they will vote are still undecided.

The “No” camp spans the political spectrum, from the hard-right, anti-immigrant Lega Nord to the far left, with Grillo’s amorphous anti-establishment Five Star Movement somewhere between the two.

Giovanni, a skeptical neighbour who likes to keep a close eye on comings and goings on our street, said: “Don’t forget: tell everyone you know to vote ‘No’.”

Some of the “Si” crowd could be seen at a public meeting hosted by Renzi on Saturday in EUR, the Mussolini-era modernist suburb of Rome.

“It is my first time to vote,” 18-year-old Francesco said. “And I’m going to vote yes, to improve our country to make it similar to other European democracies.”

“We have to change. It’s enough,” said Stefania, a woman who repeatedly referred to Renzi as a “bravo ragazzo” — a “good boy”.

The chance for real change, Renzi said, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “Yes or never. This needs to be clear. There will not be another chance.”