Renzi renews pledge to resign if he loses referendum

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Wednesday that he would have no interest in a government role if he loses Italy's upcoming constitutional referendum.

Renzi renews pledge to resign if he loses referendum
Renzi pictured last month. Photo: AFP

In an interview on Italian radio, the premier said: “I'm here to change things. If that doesn't happen, there is no role for me to play.”

If the 'No' vote wins on December 4th and Renzi's proposed changes to the constitution are rejected, it is likely that a temporary or technical government will be formed to change the electoral law before general elections can be held.

The PM said he would not be willing to seek a deal with other parties to form a coalition if this happens, adding that he didn't want to take part in “old-style political games”.

Renzi vowed to “fight like a lion” to win the vote and said he believed the “silent majority” of voters would back him in the referendum. He is currently touring the south of the country, where the 'No' camp's lead is strongest.

However, he also emphasized that he didn't envisage a 'No' victory causing immediate problems in the country.

“The 5th of December won't be Armageddon,” said Renzi. “If 'No' wins, everything will stay as it is. Italians shouldn't be fooled by politicians who are fighting to keep the privileges they have always had.”

The reforms would see the number of senators and their legislative power drastically reduced, which Renzi claims will cut down on bureaucracy, making government more stable and efficient. But his opponents argue that there are inconsistencies in his proposed changes, and that they would put too much power in the hands of the prime minister.

READ ALSO: The Local's guide to Italy's upcoming referendum

Early on in the campaign, Renzi repeatedly said that he would resign if defeated, a vow intended to emphasize how 'ungovernable' he believes Italy is under the current constitution.

But as the opposition joined together to challenge the reforms, and framed the vote as a chance to express dissatisfaction with Renzi's government and the political establishment, he back-tracked from this promise.

The premier admitted it had been a “mistake” to personalize the reforms and in later interviews refused to confirm the pledge to quit. He has also sought to dial down the impact of a possible 'No' victory in the vote, which global media have framed as 'the next challenge to the political establishment'. He said last month that he did not “anticipate any major disasters” in the event of a 'No' win, but reiterated that he would do “everything” to ensure this did not happen.

Polls published in recent weeks show the 'No' camp ahead by an increasing margin, however both opinion polls and bookmakers were wrong in their predictions of the UK's EU referendum and the recent US presidential elections. Furthermore, the lead for 'No' is strongest in the south of the country, which typically has a lower voter turnout, and polls do not include undecided voters.


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Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.