On December 4, 2016 the Italian electorate will vote on an unprecedented constitutional referendum that is deemed to radically alter the face of Italian democracy. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has put forward a complete re-styling of the Senate, one of the so-far two elected chambers, alongside major redrafting of some Articles, which will cause a centralization of power to the detriment of local and regional authorities.
In a recent article, The Economist has expressed its support for the NO campaign, criticizing the priorities that Renzi’s government has set. Mr Renzi, who was appointed in 2014 by the former Head of State Giorgio Napolitano in an attempt to overcome the political gridlock following the last general election, in 2013, has staked the survival of his executive on the outcome of the referendum. For the joy of the opposition parties, such as the far-right North League led by the self-defined ‘Italian Trump’ Matteo Salvini together with the anti-establishment and anti-Euro Five Star Movement headed by former comedian Beppe Grillo, and old shames of the Italian political past like Silvio Berlusconi, pollsters show Renzi trailing. The Economist argued that Renzi’s defeat will bring Italy back on the track of essential reforms (education, bank-sector and the judiciary), and that his defeat won’t be hazardous for the political and economic future of Italy and Europe. No political analysis could be, in my opinion, more distant from reality.
I was befuddled to see such a poor understanding of what is actually at stake in this referendum coming from my beloved The Economist. A constitutional change is what Italy has been desperately in need for since the very birth of our Republic on June 2, 1946: the constitutional Fathers themselves showed perplexity on what is called ‘perfect bicameralism’, where both Houses can vote confidence on the government and have to approve all legislations. How can we not recognize the impelling need to reform our legislative system when Italy experienced 63 different governments in the past 70 years? When no government has ever completed a full mandate, and when needed legislations are tactically filibustered by opposition parties? It’s no rocket science to realize there is a flaw in the system.
A victory of NO means no change. The Italy we constantly complain about and criticize, will stay the same or may take the worst turn. Resignations of our PM will ensue, and general elections will be held. It is unthinkable that another technocratic government will be formed, as the Economist suggests. Renzi’s unpopularity is indeed founded on his lack of electoral support; many No-voters see him indeed as illegitimate. Yet how strong can hatred and despise toward a political leader be, to motivate so many to vote for a regressive future? A negative outcome will inescapably lead to a populist anti-Euro government led by Five Star Movement that will bring the European project to an end and may plunge the economy of the whole continent into a greater recession.
Undeniably, this reform is far from completeness. Several points should be improved or reviewed, such as parliamentary impunity and the appointment of the new 100 Senators. But do not be fooled by old-class politicians saying there will be another opportunity to create a better reform: notwithstanding political promises, this is the first time in 70 years that we are presented with this eventuality. We cannot afford to wait any longer.
Italy needs to take control of its destiny: it is high-time that we put an end to empty promises and to the inability of governments to deliver on their manifesto because of the lack of a clear majority. Let’s get the winning party to be able to work, and the opposition to critically assess it.
I already cast my vote from Manchester, and proudly voted ‘SI’. I voted in favour because I finally see the chance for my country to get rid of part of the constitutional and political shackles that are hobbling and preventing us to thrive and being true leaders in Europe. I voted yes because I believe in democracy and its principles: I want the winning party to be accountable and responsible for its promises, moving beyond petty party politics and its sickening games that have disillusioned so many, myself included.
I voted yes because I am confident that the fears of my people for an authoritarian drift can be pushed back if we come together and fight against extremist, misogynist and xenophobic discourses that threaten social cohesion. Let’s stand for our values, without forgetting our past but ready to embrace the future. We must evolve to bring Italian democracy back to life, and we should not be afraid of the powers this entails.
Cosimo Mati is a second-year Politics and International Relations student at The University of Manchester