Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi announced his resignation after suffering defeat in a referendum on constitutional reforms last Sunday.
With a larger than expected turnout of 68 percent, Renzi’s proposed amendments were rejected by 59 to 41 percent.
His proposals would have strengthened the prime minister’s powers.
A Yes vote would have turned the Italian Senate, parliament’s upper house, into an unelected body stripped of its powers to bring down the prime minister.
The chamber of deputies, the lower house, could then have named a prime minister, ruling without any meaningful opposition in parliament.
The result reflected opposition to Renzi’s ruling Democratic Party (PD) and European Union (EU) imposed austerity (see below).
His PD came to office in 2013 after people rejected austerity.But Matteo continued with austerity at a slower pace.
European leaders presented the referendum as a last chance for the EU to address Italy’s banking crisis.
German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble warned, “Italy urgently needs a government that is able to act and I hope that they resume the reform course.” In other words, keep up the austerity.
Italian president Sergio Matterella will now try and get a new government formed. While the PD has a majority, it was itself split over the referendum.
Before new elections are held—possibly next spring—a new administration will be tasked with writing up a new electoral law.
The rules drawn up by Renzi only apply to the lower house—they were convinced that the referendum would annul the senate.
Renzi made bold promises to shake up Italy—but the self-styled “Demolition Man” failed.
Italian right aren't the winners
The Italian right made much of the running against Matteo Renzi’s government—and gained most of the publicity in British press.
The populist Five Star Movement campaigns over corruption but has demanded more clampdowns on migrants.
The hard right Northern League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia used the campaign to build support.
But the vote was far from a show of support for the right—and young people were mostly for No.
According to one exit poll, 18-34 year olds opted for No by 81 percent and 35-54 year olds by 67 percent.
Only voters aged 55 and over went for Yes with 53 percent.
Those campaigning for a No vote included former ministers from the centre of Italian politics—and some of Renzi’s own party.
There have also been repeated strikes and protests against Renzi and the EU’s austerity programme.
The left and the unions also supported a No vote. The large CGIL trade union federation moved to support action against the referendum last month.
A slightly panicked Financial Times newspaper reporter interviewed Alfredo, a 68 year old communist voter at a polling booth on the Via Pannonia in Rome. “I don’t like the Renzi government,” he told them after casting his No vote.
“I don’t like the way Italy is subordinated to Europe. I am in favour of Europe but I want a Europe of the people.”