The Cable

Will the World As We Know It End Again After Italy’s Referendum?

This being 2016, populism may be the real winner of Italy's upcoming referendum.


Probably not. But this being 2016, it may very well change — and perhaps dramatically.

On Sunday, Italians will vote in a referendum. If, as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi hopes, they vote “yes,” the constitution will be reformed so more power is concentrated in the central government. Right now, both houses of parliament have to approve proposed laws; a ‘yes’ vote would make the lower house the lawmaker. Renzi has apparently so staked his future on this referendum that he has said he will resign if it fails. (Why, in 2016, anyone would gamble anything, much less his professional life, on a referendum is beyond us, but we are not Matteo Renzi.)

At present, polls predict that “no” will win the day. (Caveat: “polls.”) This is significant for two reasons. First, it may throw Italy’s banks into chaotic crisis and once again shake the eurozone, which has not fully recovered from the fiscal crisis. And second, it could force an early national election in Italy, possibly handing power to the Five Star Movement.

And what is the Five Star Movement? Why, a populist party, of course!

The Five Star Movement, which has been campaigning to defeat the referendum, is led by Beppe Grillo, an actual comedian. It is Italy’s largest opposition group and is decidedly anti-establishment. A “no” vote in the referendum could propel them ahead of Renzi’s Democratic Party — and help make up for the fact that Five Star Movement mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, has bungled her way, per the Economist, to “a disastrous start.”

Another potential referendum winner is Italy’s far-right Northern League, which could pair with other opposition parties to be part of the governing coalition in the event of early elections. The Northern League platform involves “less Europe,” “less government” but “more help” (for traditional families, anyway), and “more security.” There’s a lot of that going around.

The Northern League (which played a supporting role in some of the governments of Silvio Berlusconi) may get a boost from another recent Roman development: 2016 saw a record number of asylum seekers reach Italy’s referendum-rocked shores.

Photo credit: ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

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