Matteo Renzi was roundly defeated in a referendum to change Italy’s constitution, marking a major victory for anti-establishment and rightwing parties and plunging the eurozone’s third largest economy into political chaos. The prime minister conceded defeat in an emotional speech at his residence, Palazzo Chigi, and said he would submit his resignation to Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, on Monday afternoon. “My experience in government ends here … I did all I could to bring this to victory,” Renzi said. “If you fight for an idea, you cannot lose.” It was a not an unexpected defeat but it was nevertheless a humiliating one, with 59.1% of Italians voting against the proposed reforms, which would have made sweeping changes to Italy’s constitution and parliamentary system. Pointing to the high voter turnout – 65% of eligible voters cast ballots in the referendum – Renzi said the vote represented a “feast of democracy”.
The 20-point margin was a major victory for the populist Five Star Movement, which led opposition to the reform, and the xenophobic Northern League. The parties are not traditional allies but locked arms to take on Renzi in the hope – now realised – of driving him out of office. Weeks ago both party leaders, Beppe Grillo and Matteo Salvini, were exuberant in the face of Donald Trump’s victory in the US, with Grillo claiming it represented a big “fuck you” to the political establishment.
Indeed, just moments after the exit polls established that Renzi was heading to an embarrassing loss, Salvini took to Twitter to heap praise on Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, and “La Lega”, as the Northern League is known.
The victory for no could have profound consequences for Italy and could rattle European and global markets because of concerns about the country’s economic future and evident support of populist and Eurosceptic parties. It may also prompt worries about plans by a consortium of banks to rescue Banca Monte dei Paschi of Siena, as some investors said they feared that a victory for no could destabilise the banking sector.