2016 is proving to be a year of change. After the shock of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, Italy showed its discontent with the status quo and took a step toward what could possibly be the first step of an Italian Brexit-style referendum to leave the European Union (#Italeave?).
The prime minister, who first took office in 2014, put forward a constitutional referendum that would have amended the Italian Constitution to change the make-up and powers of the Parliament of Italy, as well as the division of powers between the state, regions, and administrative entities.
During months of protest and riots that led up to the vote, Renzi vowed to resign should his referendum be rejected with a no vote.
Italians headed in record numbers to the polls and with nearly 60% of voters saying ‘No,’ Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s constitutional referendum was resoundingly defeated. By vowing to resign if the referendum did not pass, Renzi turned the vote into a crucial decision that Business Insider said “is poised to tear Europe apart.”
After the results were announced, people went back to the streets to protest outside the parliament, demanding Renzi to fulfill his promise. A large number of protesters were students who rejected the EU and assured that “[i]n Italy, everyone hates this thing called the EU. It is falling apart and we hope it happens quickly.”
The opposition, backed by the populist Five Star movement, argued that the changes would give too much power to the prime minister, and campaigned across the country with an “I say NO” campaign that called Italians to reject Renzi’s proposal.
Since 2008, Italy has struggled with an aging population that has reduced the country’s labor productivity, making matters worse with a strong wave of illegal immigration that awoke the populist movement. These factors have created a tense environment that has led to continued protests, some even violent, where anti-government protesters took to the streets to express their discontent.
Matteo Renzi confirmed his plans to step down from office, but his resignation was delayed after meeting with President Sergio Matarella on Monday, December 5, when he was asked to remain in office until there was an approved budget.
Unlike the previous populist movements, which were composed of older generations, the ‘No’ in Italy’s referendum was led by students. According to the Financial Times, “80 per cent of people aged between 18 and 24 voted against the government.”
Continued rejection of the political establishment around the world proves that these events are not isolated, but part of a growing global feeling where the people want change. Using protests, freedom of speech, and votes, citizens around the world are able to fight the system and make their discontented voices heard.