Constitutional referendum puts an end to Renzi's government

Italian Prime Minister resigns after 59% of voters reject proposed amendments · Sardinia returns highest “no” vote · “Yes” wins in South Tyrol, where it enjoyed support from main pro-autonomy party

Renzi announces his resignation after yesterday's referendum.
Renzi announces his resignation after yesterday's referendum. Author: T. Barchielli / Governo Italiano
Matteo Renzi is set to submit today his resignation after the severe defeat suffered yesterday in the referendum on constitutional reform. 59% of voters rejected a set of Renzi-backed changes to the Constitution —some of which aimed at greater centralization of Italy— and all in all, opposition to the reform got 6 million votes more than support to it. Renzi's failure opens a difficult-to-manage scenario.

Renzi (Democratic Party, center-left) immediately admitted that the "yes" defeat was in fact his own. The PM had turned the referendum into a kind of plebiscite on himself. And he clearly lost it, with a considerable turnout (65.5%, higher than expected). Virtually all the opposition was supporting a "no" vote, including the Five Star Movement, Berlusconi's Forza Italia, the Northern League, several left-wing parties and even some PD sectors.

But the situation is complicated as "no" voters can be found in very different political and ideological camps —even opposing ones, so it is almost impossible that one single party can be able to claim all those votes for itself.

Moreover, who will be able to make the most from Renzi's fall remains uncertain. The president of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, must now decide if he commands someone to form a new government, or else he calls a snap election. Italian media say the first outcome is more likely, with independent Pier Carlo Padoan, current Finance minister and former IMF and OECD official, as Mattarella's top choice. No one rules out that, after the storm calms down, Renzi himself could be willing to lead another government, perhaps after the 2018 legislative election.

This cannot be an appealing scenario for the Five Star Movement (M5S), Forza Italia or the Northern League, all of whom want a snap election to be immediately called. Beppe Grillo has reasons to believe his M5S —ironically enough thanks to a new electoral law, the Italicum, passed under Renzi's tenure— could win an absolute majority in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower chamber of the Italian Parliament. Even so, it is unlikely the M5S could attain a similar result in the Senate, thus still needing to negotiate with at least one more party to form a government.

"Yes" vote strong where PD won in 2013 (more or less)

A relative correlation can be seen between regions supporting Renzi's constitutional reform yesterday and those who voted for the PD in the 2013 parliamentary election. The two maps below show how the "yes", green area made up of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna —including Florence and Bologna—, roughly matches the big orange spot where the PD found big support in 2013.

Far in the north, another green spot can be seen, that of the South Tyrol province, which we will address later.

However, the comparison between both maps also shows how some areas where the PD got good results in 2013 —especially in southern regions and Sardinia— have now completely turned their back on Renzi.

Highest proportion of "no" ballots in Sardinia

In Sardinia, 72.2% of the votes were cast against the reform, which turns the island into the territory where Renzi's defeat was the largest. Sardinian media today say it has also been a very strong setback for Sardinian president Francesco Pigliaru (PD), who like Renzi had asked voters to support the amendments.

The island's newspapers also believe Sardinians have sought to send a strong message to Rome in defense of their autonomy. Over the campaign, pro-independence parties had argued the reform amounted to an attack against the powers of the regions —although strictly speaking, regions with special autonomy like Sardinia were spared from the changes, at least in the short run— and rejected the fact that the Senate was losing powers. This was the case for the Sardinian Action Party (PSd'Az), the Sardinians' Party —which has even called to start preparations for a Sardinian Constitution— and the Rossomori, among others.

South Tyrol is the other side of the coin

Mainly German-speaking province of South Tyrol massively supported the reform, with 63.7% of "yes" votes. Interestingly, it has also been argued that by doing so, South Tyrolean voters were also supporting the region's autonomy —but voting the opposite way that Sardinians did. At least, that's what South Tyrol president Arno Kompatscher (South Tyrol People's Party, SVP, pro-autonomy) says. According to Kompatscher, who had called people to vote "yes", South Tyroleans have validated the so-called "safeguard clause" of regions with special autonomy —Trentino-South Tyrol, Aosta Valley, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Sardinia and Sicily—, which has been included in the constitutional reform. The clause says constitutional amendments would not be implemented in those five regions until their respective statutes were not updated, and that this process should only be done after bilateral negotiations between Rome and the regional governments. In any case, the "yes" victory suggests that the SVP retains a good measure of influence on South Tyrolean voters.