Renzi calls it quits: What next for Italy?

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will finally resign on Wednesday, he announced as negotiations over who or what follows him intensified in a country in political limbo.

Renzi calls it quits: What next for Italy?
What will become of Renzi? Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Ironically, Renzi's rule comes to an end with his government winning a vote of confidence in the Senate, the parliamentary chamber he tried to emasculate via a referendum in which he suffered a crushing defeat on Sunday.

The confidence vote curtailed prolonged discussion on the approval of Italy's 2017 budget – an unfinished task which prompted President Sergio Mattarella to ask Renzi to delay his departure for a few days.

With that job done, Renzi, typically, took to Twitter to tell voters he would resign at 7pm (1800 GMT).

“Budget law approved. Formal resignation at 1900. Thanks to everyone and viva l'Italia!” (“long live Italy!”)he tweeted.

The move came as two major questions were exercising Italians: Will there be early elections? And what will become of the outgoing premier?

Renzi's destiny looked set to be clearer after a meeting of the executive of his Democratic Party (PD), scheduled to take place before the leader visited Mattarella in the early evening.

Renzi remains the leader of the centre-left party but it is beset by internal divisions that were painfully exposed by the referendum battle.

As PD secretary general, Renzi controls the party apparatus, which he used to stage the coup that deposed his successor, Enrico Letta, in February 2014.

Push for early election

Analysts see the party machinations playing out in one of two ways.

Either enough of Renzi erstwhile allies decide he is damaged goods and he is toppled. Or he survives as leader and reasserts his authority as a precursor to staging a comeback bid at the next elections.

An election must be held by February 2018 but opposition parties are clamouring for it to be held up to a year early, saying the referendum was effectively a vote of no confidence in the centre-left coalition.

“Either we have immediate elections or we take to the streets,” Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right Northern League, warned on Wednesday.

“We cannot make a mockery of the 32 million people who voted on Sunday.”

Renzi is reported to favour a February 2017 election, calculating that the PD remains well-placed to emerge with the largest share of the vote, despite the upward trend in backing for the populist Five Star Movement.

Recipe for paralysis

Led by comedian Beppe Grillo, Five Star is skilled at pitching an eclectic message to all shades of opinion – from libertarian leftists and ultra-environmentalists to anti-euro and anti-immigration eurosceptics.

The last year has seen Five Star emerge decisively as Italy's biggest opposition force, largely at the expense of 80-year-old Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, with around 30 percent of voters likely to back the movement.

Backing for the Northern League has been largely stable at around 15 percent of voter intentions, and Five Star's hopes of power are seen as being restricted by its reluctance to countenance alliances with other parties.

The major obstacle to holding an election in two months' time is that parliament must first revise the rules by which it will be held.

As things stand, two different electoral laws apply to the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, which hold equal powers under the “perfect bicameral” principle upheld by the referendum.

A new system for the Chamber of Deputies, under which the party getting the most votes would be guaranteed a majority of the seats, was approved earlier this year. But all the parties had agreed to revise it before the referendum.

The Senate meanwhile is elected by a proportional system unlikely to give any one party or coalition a majority. Elections under two different systems would be a recipe for political paralysis, most observers agree. Crucially, reports say Mattarella shares that view.


By Angus MacKinnon

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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.