Italy: Referendum to Determine Matteo Renzi’s Fate | Wall Street Journal

When Italians vote on a much-awaited popular referendum on Sunday, they will also be deciding the fate of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government—and expressing the country’s appetite for change. The ballot is ostensibly over Mr. Renzi’s proposal to overhaul Italy’s legislature. But with his popularity waning and the economy stalled, it has become a make-or-break vote on the premier himself and his vision for a nimbler and faster-growing Italy. A loss would likely drive Mr. Renzi from office and usher in a period of instability amid growing support for a large populist party. Italy’s referendum kicks off a momentous electoral year in Europe, where populist parties are expected to do well. On the same day as the Italian vote, Austrians go to the polls to elect a new president, in a race that could install the country’s first right-wing populist head of state since World War II. Support for anti-establishment parties is surging in France and Germany, too, both of which have elections next year.

Mr. Renzi’s proposed reform takes aim at Italy’s unwieldy legislature, which counts more than 900 members in a system with strong checks and balances established in the wake of fascism. The goal, he says, is to make it easier to pass laws, including those meant to strengthen Italy’s sclerotic economy.

The overhaul would cut the size of the Italian Senate to 100 from 315 members and strip it of its power to hold votes of confidence on new governments, leaving that responsibility entirely to the lower house. Mr. Renzi says that change would make for more durable governments in a country that has seen more than 60 since World War II. The proposal also aims to eliminate overlapping powers between central and regional authorities that exacerbate the inefficiencies of Italy’s notorious bureaucracy.

Mr. Renzi has pledged to resign in the case of a “no” vote, making the ballot effectively a vote of confidence in his government. That has galvanized Mr. Renzi’s opposition. Everyone from union leaders to center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi and former Prime Minister Mario Monti is seizing on the chance to topple Mr. Renzi, a self-styled “Demolition Man” who swept into power in early 2014 with promises to overhaul Italy’s political and economic establishment.

Full Article: Italian Referendum to Determine Matteo Renzi’s Fate – WSJ.

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