The Italian prime minister resigned Sunday night, after Italy voted no in a referendum on constitutional reform. In power since 2014, Matteo Renzi had urged citizens to vote for changes to the constitution that would have reduced the powers of the senate and allowed legislation to pass more easily, but he was defeated by a large margin.
After the referendum showed that 59.1 percent of the electorate had opted to keep the system as it is, Renzi promptly returned to the Palazzo Chigi (the official residence of the Italian PM) and addressed the nation.
“We tried, we gave Italians a chance to change, but we didn’t make it,” he said. “We wanted to win, not to take part in the competition.”
In what was described as an emotional speech, Renzi added that he had done everything he possibly could to bring change to the country, and insisted that “if you fight for an idea, you cannot lose.”
The referendum result is a big win for the anti-establishment party called Five Star Movement. Under its leader, former comedian Beppe Grillo, the group campaigned against the reforms and tried to present the vote as a judgement on Renzi’s leadership. The far-right Northern League also claimed the result as a victory. Matteo Salvini, the leader of the group, tweeted:
Other right-wing leaders in Europe were quick to weigh in, with both Marine Le Pen, of France, and the U.K.’s Nigel Farage claiming that the result was a vote against the EU:
Farage, who played a pivotal role in the U.K’s decision to exit the European Union, said that the Italian outcome was more about the euro than any constitutional issue. This is despite polls showing that most Italians support the currency:
Certainly the result is a shock for Europe, and raises fears that Italy will now enter a period of economic uncertainty. Italy is the third biggest economy in the EU, but fears have been growing over the financial stability of the banks there. The debt burden is large, and some experts worry that Renzi’s departure could spark a period of instability that might further harm the banks.
Matteo Renzi will submit his resignation to the Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Monday. The president is expected to assemble a transitional government, but – despite calls from opposition parties – a snap election is thought to be unlikely.