Populism is the referendum

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)

 

The defeat of Matteo Renzi in the referendum held last in Italy Sunday on the constitution’ reform, is due to different factors, ranging from the antipathy that the Italian Prime Minister arouses, to the generated protest by the economic crisis and the defense of the Constitution.

In the referendum was a high turnout and a high percentage of voters who rejected the reform, suggesting that people is fed up and tired, and especially the impoverished middle class, the unemployed youth, the workers who feel threatened with the massive arrival of immigrants and, those employees whose wages are not enough to live. It is the same people who was in favor of Brexit in Britain, who voted for Donald Trump in the United States and now has positioned to Italy in a new crisis. Italy’s referendum cannot be compared to Brexit, although it must be understood as a request for change, just as in the UK and the United States.

Matteo Renzi (Florence, 1975), has been the youngest PM in the history of the Italian Republic. He was first a very famed Florence’ Mayor, who went on a bike to work and became PM because it was his party’ wish, (Democratic Party, social-democratic), after several months of political uncertainty. So, Renzi occupied the head of Government without going through the polls. He was the third minister who had Italy without elections in little more than three years, after Mario Monti and Enrico Letta. His conquest of power was fast, but nothing improvised. His political models are Blair, Clinton and Obama although he has been accused of resembling too much Silvio Berlusconi. Both are two great communicators and have the same taste for impact’ statements. The two of them have a crazy ego, although today, about self-esteem nobody surpasses Renzi: “Renzi has an exuberant ego. It is normal in politicians to have a marked ego. For three years until today, I would put Renzi at the head of all “, affirmed the writer and journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the prestigious Italian daily ‘La Repubblica’.

Renzi insisted during the campaign that the consultation was not about him, but about the Constitution’ change. But he made a serious mistake which has been the personalization of the referendum, making it practically a plebiscite. The consequence has been a terrible campaign, with the country divided and the opposition asking for the ‘No’ to eliminate Renzi from the political scene. It seems like it has been achieved for the time being.

The economic question was very important in the defeat of Renzi: In the districts with low unemployment’ rate, the ‘Yes’ overcame by 59%. In the 100 districts with the highest unemployment’ rate, the ‘No’ achieved 65.8%. In the south, the poorest Italian region, people voted massively for No.

The constitutional question is of great importance, as it was back in 2006, when the Italians rejected with more than 60% of the votes another Constitution’ change promoted by Silvio Berlusconi. Most Italians stated that they do not want to touch the complex balance achieved in 1948’ Constitution, drafted after World War II and after the twenty years of fascist government, and whose objective is to avoid the emergence of another dictator as Benito Mussolini. According to Gianfranco Rotondi, who was Minister of Silvio Berlusconi, “ Italians are a conservative country in constitutional matters.”

Renzi is already history. For this very time, the polls have not been wrong and the Italians have rejected a reform that would have gave more power to the central government and would avoid the eternal difficulty in Italy to create stable administrations: Italy is the country which in the nineties, had up to seven different PM’s.

Are this events good news for Spain? In part, because the bad relationship between Renzi and the Spaniard PM, Mariano Rajoy is widely known and documented. Spain and Italy are very similar countries, with a poorer south and a rich selfish north which wants to become independent; the uncontrolled public spending and a similar life’ style.

Latest August, Renzi convened a summit on Ventotene Island to ‘relaunch Europe’ after the Brexit fiasco and take a common stand towards Britain. There were, Merkel, François Hollande and Renzi himself. As the press revealed, Rajoy was the great absentee. The official excuse: he was ‘acting PM’. Then the Italian Premier was the main opponent for Rajoy participating in the mini Europe-United States summit that Merkel organized in Berlin to say goodbye to Obama. Finally, the Spanish PM was at the table, thanks to his friend and German ally, Mrs. Merkel.

Why these disagreements between Rajoy and Renzi? Because they are competing for being the most important country in Southern Europe; Because Rajoy is conservative and Renzi is left-wing and above all, because the Italian complains that Rajoy chose to get along with Merkel than making an alliance with him so that of the economic austerity’ conditions were relaxed. The predictable chaos and misrule in Italy will strengthen Spain’ position, which grows and fulfills its duties, as a preferred partner in southern Europe.

After Renzi, no one knows what might happen: the already weakened European Union and the Euro itself especially, are at risk, even to survive.

Some media already call it ‘Rexit’, in a play of words that conjugates the name of Renzi and the similarities that his case keeps with the UK Brexit. After all, in both cases, most the population took advantage of a referendum to show their disaffection with the political establishment, and to show through the polls their deep dissatisfaction with their reality.

A referendum on a complex and technical issue was transformed into a political fact, into a political choice. Renzi’s personality, his great arrogance and ambition, arouses antipathy and the Italians voted against the establishment, but also against Renzi’s rule. “57% of voters decided to vote based on his government,” Fabio Bordignon, an academic at the University of Urbino, told to Rai3, the public TV.

Democracy has become unpredictable. Or maybe it is becoming very predictable: always the “No” win and the establishment loses. After the Brexit and the Italian referendum there is a clear conclusion which we must be aware of: what constitutes ‘populism’ is the calling of citizens by the legitimately elected representatives, in the form of a referendum or similar consultations. The referendum is Populism.

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