Following the pattern of the US election and Brexit, the emergence of populist resistance to stronger central governance has proven difficult for the progressive goals of the current Italian administration.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has announced that he will resign from office following Monday’s referendum vote that went against his proposed constitutional reforms. The reforms largely focused on minimizing the role of Italy’s upper Senate in order to centralize power, and was met by strong opposition from right-wing populist parties.
President Sergio Mattarella, who serves as a largely ceremonial leader in Italy’s government, urged the Prime Minister to remain in office until the parliament approved the budget for 2017, which could occur as soon as later this week. The referendum vote also bolstered a platform for groups urging Italy to abandon the euro.
Voters saw the referendum vote as an opportunity to oust Renzi from power when he announced his winner-take-all strategy, pledging to resign if the reforms were rejected. In addition to the far right, members of Renzi’s own center-left Democratic Party (PD) campaigned for “no” votes. At this time, it remains unclear if Renzi will retain enough support from party members to remain as leader of the PD; a role that would give him a voice in selecting Italy’s next Prime Minister.
There was some clear solidarity amongst Italian voters. Two-thirds of eligible voters went out to the polls, with a final result of “no” votes reaching just above 59 percent. Italy’s economy has remained sluggish in past years, and Italy has been flooded as a migration crisis arrival point. The number of migrants from Africa has reached the hundreds of thousands.
Italy’s Five Star Movement, a rising populist party, could use this opportunity to gain power in the next election. Having campaigned against Renzi’s referendum, the party has also proposed a referendum for Italy to pull out of the euro zone in light of the country’s ongoing bank crisis.
The pattern of anti-establishment party popularity has emerged all over Europe, and Renzi’s resignation is part of the major shift of European leadership. In addition to the prominent right-wing coalitions in central European countries such as Hungary and Poland, support for populist parties has risen in traditionally leftist nations like Sweden, France, and Greece in the last few elections. As one of Europe’s four largest economies, Italy’s role on the international stage is significant, and it’s unclear what lies ahead.