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  • What You Need to Know about the Italy Referendum No Vote

    Discover what will happen next as the country seeks to redefine itself, and populist ideals come into play
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    By now, you probably know that Italians voted no for the referendum intended to make a smaller government and put more power in the hands of the executive branch. You might already have heard about the fact that, as promised, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi reacted to the "no" vote by resigning. Now, the world is watching as a new government tries to form, and Italy is labeled as the next domino to fall in a populist movement sweeping the world.

    Anyone who thinks this is going to be a boring story to which they cannot relate and therefore will stop reading now should reconsider. As Thomas Friedman taught us all in his landmark book, "the world is flat." What happens on the other side of the globe directly influences you wherever you are.

    Of course, those who are Italian or of Italian heritage have even more of a stake in what's going on. They could have money or property in Italy or they want to know if the new government, new economy, new world is going to please or perturb Zia Filomena. Indeed, Italy's story as it is unfolding will touch you personally.

    So, what does this all mean and what's next?

    For starters, Italy, which is known for having had 63 governments since World War II is about to have yet another, and nobody is pretending this next administration is going to last either. After Renzi resigned, Paolo Gentiloni, a close ally to Renzi and member of his center-left party, agreed to become prime minister. The opposition Five-Star Movement, which represents the hard right and is led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, has labeled Gentiloni "Renzi's avatar."

    This gets at the heart of how this all happened. Renzi wanted to strengthen the executive, so there would be more stability in government. The idea was that then the government leaders could focus on strengthening the stagnant economy that has been on the brink of a bank crisis for some time now.

    The opposition, however, saw this as a play for more power on the part of Renzi. They resented it, especially since early on in this campaign he promised to resign if voters said "no" to the changes. As a result, it became a referendum on Renzi. There were protests in the streets, and many of the people felt as though a stronger executive meant a silencing of the people. It also would have led to a two-party system closer to the American democracy, which was scary for Italians, who are used to having multiple parties with new coalitions forming all the time.

    Much like in the United States, those who are feeling the pinch of harder economic times have been feeling like they have no voice. Voting no seemed to embolden them. Combine this with an anti-EU sentiment spreading in Europe, high unemployment among youth, and a refugee crisis the likes of which Italy has never seen, and you can better understand the results. Many analysts and journalists are warning that Italy is a great threat to the European Union and its economy at the moment.

    That might be why, despite the reaction of the people and the opposition, who wanted an immediate election to choose someone else as prime minister, Gentiloni was able to get approval from the Italian parliament. President Sergio Mattarella reportedly said the rules for election process needed to be revised before holding immediate elections, which made that choice much more of a challenge. The next election will be held in May 2018 as scheduled (at least that's how it stands now).

    What is interesting is that Renzi still has great influence. Aside from being close to Gentiloni, 62, he is also the favorite to lead the party, according to The Guardian. The Five-Star Movement argues that these are the same old politicians performing the same old tricks, and no one is listening to the people. They are saying the party is out of touch, according the Guardian and others. Sounds familiar doesn't it?

    Without a magic ball it's impossible to know what the future holds for Italy or the world. What is certain is that we all have to keep paying attention to what's happening because nations are closer and more intertwined than ever and we want to know our own fate as we stand in the line of dominoes.

    Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 12/19/16


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