Italy referendum: Can ‘the Trump effect’ save Italy’s prime minister?

Italians are rethinking whether they want to vote in line with populist parties

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When Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called for a referendum on the future of the two-house system in Italy’s parliament, he was confident of victory.

Italian legislative decisions are notoriously slow, bills have to be ratified by both chambers to become law, and Mr Renzi said the move would streamline governmental processes.

But a few days ahead of the vote his job is on the line.

Instead of seeing the referendum merely as a public vote on the mechanics of government, most Italians feel the prime minister’s involvement has made it into a vote of confidence in the prime minister himself.

If Italy votes against the reforms, Mr Renzi is expected to resign, or at least forced out.

The result is highly uncertain, with final polls ahead of Sunday’s vote showing about a quarter of Italians remain undecided. Nonetheless, the No vote against Mr Renzi’s reforms has consistently held a small but convincing lead.

However, a glimmer of hope exists for Mr Renzi, and it exists in the shape of Donald Trump.

Since Mr Trump’s shock US election win, many Italians have reportedly become increasingly concerned about a shift to the far-right.

In Italy, two populist parties have opposed the Prime Minister’s proposed reforms.

These are the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the Northern League.

Both oppose the Euro, and since the Brexit vote in the UK, Euroscepticism in Italy has surged.

A convincing win for the No vote could be enough to prompt an election, in which M5S would be expected to do well.

But since Mr Trump’s victory, Italians are rethinking whether they want to vote in line with these parties.

Dr Paola Subacchi, the director of the International Economics Department at Chatham House, told The Independent: “People want to avoid the Trump effect in Italy. They are very concerned that the No voters include people like Five Stars Movement and the Northern league - lots of populists. They are both anti- Euro.

“They are both doing well at the moment, but there are people who were thinking of voting No at the referendum, who might change [their minds], because they do not like the groups and do not want to somehow legitimise these groups.”

She added: “People are not being asked whether to leave the EU or whether or not to leave the Euro or whether or not to have a far-right president with a lot of unpleasant features.

“The mistake was made at the beginning of the year by the prime minister by thinking that he could actually win this referendum and he made it into a sort of personal thing – it’s become like a referendum on his government and his policies, and that was a big mistake. He has realised he’s made a big mistake and now he’s trying to back-pedal.”