Italy’s Prime Minister Resigns After Referendum Defeat

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Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi. Photo: TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images

Italy is facing enormous political and economic uncertainty following the resignation of its prime minister, Matteo Renzi. Renzi was following through with his promise to resign if Italian voters rejected a series of constitutional reforms he had proposed, which they indeed did, in a referendum on Sunday. Renzi’s reform package was opposed by Italy’s Eurosceptic and right-wing anti-immigration parties, and its loss is being seen as another sign of the growing populist, anti-Establishment wave in European politics.

One of the prominent leaders of the opposition to Prime Minister Renzi and his proposed constitutional changes was Matteo Salvini of the Northern League, a hard-line anti-immigration party. On Sunday, Salvini described the referendum result as a “victory of the people against the strong powers of three-quarters of the world”.

Renzi’s resignation is a stunning victory for Italy’s populist Five Star Movement, which is now working on plans to govern the country and hopes to parlay their recent success into a bid for the prime minister’s seat in the next election. That movement, which is led by the controversial comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo, also wants Italy to exit the European Union.

Right-wing, anti–European Union politicians were quick to offer their congratulations to Italy. Marine Le Pen of the French hard-line anti-immigrant party the Front Nationale was among the first to tweet her praise to the Northern League. “The Italians have disavowed the EU and Renzi,” she wrote. “We must listen to this thirst for freedom of nations.”

The developments out of Italy came just hours after Austria provided some rare good news for the European Union and European left: the resounding defeat of far-right Eurosceptic Norbert Hofer in the country’s presidential race. Had the anti-immigrant Hofer won, he would have become the first democratically elected far-right head of state in Europe since the Second World War. The victor in that race, Alexander Van der Bellen, not only wasn’t conservative, but a left-leaning pro-EU former leader of the Green Party.

Back in Italy, more than 50 million Italians were eligible to take part in Sunday’s referendum, and nearly 60 percent turned out to vote. Speaking late Sunday night with reporters, Renzi seemed resigned to his fate. “I lost and the job that goes is mine,” he said. “Good luck to us all.”

Italy’s Prime Minister Resigns After Referendum Defeat