Italy’s referendum: Seven key questions and answers

On Sunday, Italians go to the polls to decide whether or not to vote through a set of changes to the country's constitution. It's a referendum likely to have major consequences for both Italy and Europe - here are the key facts you need to know.

Italy's referendum: Seven key questions and answers
A poster calling for Italians to vote 'Yes' and a placard during a 'No' rally. Photos: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

1. What is being proposed?

– To strip the second chamber of parliament, the Senate, of most of its powers to block and amend legislation.

– To replace 315 elected Senators with 100 appointees from the regions.

– To transfer some powers currently held by local and regional authorities to central government

2. Why? 

The government says the reform will end gridlock in parliament and make it easier to pass difficult legislation. The changes have been designed to complement reform of the electoral system ensuring biggest vote-winner in elections of a parliamentary majority.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi argues that the reforms will reduce bureaucracy and lead to savings of up to 490 million euros a year in operating costs (including the salaries of senators), according to disputed government figures.

3. Who's on which side? 

FOR: Renzi, most of his centre-left Democratic Party and his junior coalition partners. Most business leaders, including Banca D'Italia and Goldman Sachs (not that this will help Renzi in his battle to convince voters he's not part of Italy's 'establishment').

AGAINST: All the main opposition parties – populist Five Star Movement, Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the far-right Northern League. Some prominent figures in Renzi's own camp including former party secretary Pier Luigi Bersani and former prime minister Massimo D'Alema, many constitutional experts.

4. Will it carry? 

It's very uncertain. Last polls before a two-week pre-vote ban gave the No camp a lead of five to eight percentage points, but with many voters – around a third – undecided.

However, the rule banning publication of polls in the finals two weeks means we really don't know how people are feeling right now. Renzi is hoping that a boost from expat voters (who weren't included in most opinion polls, and have already cast their votes) will swing it his way.

5. What happens if Yes wins? 

Renzi stays in power, his authority will be enhanced and he can pursue plans for reforms of the education, legal and administrative systems. 

He has made some big promises to voters in the run-up to the vote, even reviving the idea of a bridge to Sicily, and in the event of a close result he'd be under a lot of pressure to prove the capability of his government.

6. And if No wins? 

Renzi has said he will step aside – however, it's possible that pressure from other ministers will persuade him to stay, due to fears that his resignation could lead to political instability for Italy.

Many observers expect his party to form a new government without him, possibly with Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan as prime minister.

Another option is a 'technocratic' government, something Renzi has described as a 'risk' but which other observers, including Britain's The Economist newspaper, have suggested would be the best option for Italy.

While some global media has painted the possibility of a No win as the 'third anti-establishment revolt' of 2016 – following Brexit and Trump's win in the US – this isn't exactly the case. If the No camp wins, things stay as they are in terms of government. Even Renzi has said it wouldn't lead to “any major disasters”.

7. Will there be early elections?

This is possible, but seen as unlikely before late 2017 at the earliest. The main reason for that is that Italy will have to sort out its electoral law before having a general election.

Want more details? Here's everything you need to know about Italy's referendum

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How Italy’s anthem ‘Bella Ciao’ has become a global revolutionary anthem

The historic Italian anthem 'Bella Ciao' is being used by demonstrators from all across the world to to oppose injustices and abuse.

How Italy's anthem 'Bella Ciao' has become a global revolutionary anthem

From Ukraine to Chile, protesters worldwide have long rallied to the stirring Italian anthem Bella Ciao, which is now being sung by demonstrators in solidarity with women in Iran.

The song, which talks of dying for freedom, was sung in Italy during World War II and became a symbol of resistance against fascism.

READ ALSO: Seven faces of the Italian resistance whose stories you should know

It has since become a global rallying call, with the song currently being used by those protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the feared Iranian morality police.

Early in the protests, a video of a singer – her head uncovered in defiance of the compulsory hijab – performing a version in Persian went viral.

Since then, Bella Ciao – meaning ‘Goodbye Beautiful’ in Italian – has been sung by supporters of the protests from all corners of the world, including Kurdish women in Turkey and expatriate Iranians in Paris.

Although the song has long been associated with Italian partisan fighters (the so-called ‘partigiani‘), there is no evidence it was actually ever sung by them, according to Carlo Pestelli, author of the book Bella Ciao: The Song of Freedom.

READ ALSO: The ‘forgotten’ resistance: The Italian partisans neglected by history books

The song certainly became popular during the war, he said, but its history traces back to 19th-century traditional folk songs from northern Italy characterised by passionate themes, especially unfulfilled love.

“It is difficult to say exactly what its origins are,” Pestelli told AFP, adding that its ambiguous lyrics have allowed for its adoption in many different causes.

“It wasn’t a communist song but a manifesto for freedom… it represents apolitical values that everyone can understand and share,” Pestelli said.

It is also “an easy song to sing”, with a catchy chorus that even non-Italian speakers can pick up.

Over time, the global reach of the song has been fuelled by popular interpretations, including by French star Yves Montand and, more recently, its inclusion in the Netflix hit Money Heist.

Bella Ciao can now be heard wherever there are crowds rallying, from the streets of New York to Hong Kong and Athens.

A cry against oppression

Earlier this year, Ukrainians sang Bella Ciao in defiance of the invading Russian forces.

But, the song has also been the soundtrack to dancing demonstrators in Tripoli, a chant by English football fans and a call for action by climate activists from Sydney to Brussels.

In Rome and Paris, it was sung with emotion from windows and balconies during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown.

Italian residents singing 'Bella Ciao' in Rome.

During Italy’s Covid lockdown, residents sang ‘Bella Ciao’ from windows and balconies. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

For many, the history of the song is now less important than its global impact.

“This song is very famous in Iran and all over the world because it is a symbol against oppression,” said Masah, a 29-year-old Iranian expatriate who attended a solidarity rally for the Mahsa Amini protests in Rome this week.

While the lyrics are often translated, the chorus is normally sung in Italian, although that too has been adapted on some occasions.

Last year in Jerusalem, protesters against then prime minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu sang ‘Bibi Ciao’ ahead of his departure from office.

In 2019, anti-regime protesters in Iraq rallied to their own version, ‘Blaya Chara’, meaning ‘no way out’ in Iraqi dialect.

“When we sing it, we feel more united with the whole world,” added Masah’s sister, Shiva, 33, at the Iran protest in Rome.

“Music is a form of expression that allows you to communicate even without knowing other languages,” she added.