The winners and losers of Italy’s referendum

Matteo Renzi's downfall following the resounding 'No' to his constitutional reform has left a hole in the Italian political landscape and a host of figures jockeying to seize the vacated throne of power.

The winners and losers of Italy's referendum
Ballots being counted in the crunch vote. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The loser

Renzi, 41, snatched power in February 2014 and pledged reforms across the board, from the education system to justice and employment.

Vocal in the media and on social networks, he failed however to win the trust of the electorate and admitted on Sunday to feeling “anger, disappointment, bitterness and sadness” after his crushing referendum defeat.

Italian press reports from “behind closed doors” in the PM's office painted a Renzi in tears who said he wanted nothing but to jet off to sunny climes for peace and quiet. For the time being he is still the head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), and has in his pocket the votes of 13.4 million Italians who trusted him by voting 'Yes' to his reform.

Before the referendum, 31 percent of voters backed the PD according to polls.

The impatient

Beppe Grillo, 68, comic and founder of the anti-establishment Five Star movement (M5S), is dining out on a win many analysts see as a rejection of traditional parties and politics. The Five Stars snapped up a quarter of votes in the 2013 elections and have scored important victories since – mayoral races in Rome and Turin in particular.

With up to 30 percent of voters supporting the anti-euro party, Grillo is calling for early elections. But the movement has refused to ally with other political parties from the start, and M5S would find it impossible to snap up the majority it needs to govern alone.

Matteo Salvini, 43, heads up the anti-immigrant Northern League party and has tried – but largely failed – to extend its reach beyond the rich north into the poorer southern heartlands by playing the anti-euro card and railing against migrants.

Though it can only boast up to 14 percent of voter support, the League also wants early elections, preceded by a primary in January to unite forces across the right and create a block to challenge the Five Stars and the left.


Silvio Berlusconi, 80, is a three-time former prime minister and head of the centre-right Forza Italy party. Largely absent from politics – though not from the gossip pages – following his ousting in 2011, he retired further from the spotlight after heart surgery in June. Jumping on the 'No' bandwagon at thelast minute, he has now taken a place at the victors' table.

He wants early elections, has ruled out Salvini's plan for primaries, and demanded changes to the electoral law which would free him from having to form a coalition with the Northern League.

Pierluigi Bersani, 65, is head of old guard at the PD. Party leader before Renzi snatched his job, he fought against the reforms, saying they would give one man (Renzi) too much power. He wants a party congress, but not necessarily early elections.

Dario Franceschini, 58, is minister of culture, a former PD party secretary and a touch stone for influential left-wing Catholics. He has been named a possible candidate to take over now from Renzi, though analysts say a non-politician is more likely for the job.

Mario Monti, 73, is a former European Commissioner who was appointed in 2011 to head up a “technical” government after Berlusconi's ouster. He urged voters to say 'No' to Renzi's reforms but did not want him to resign.

He has accused foreign analysts of hyping up coverage of the referendum and wrongly describing Renzi's downfall a victory of populism or anti-Europe sentiment. He wants a government based on the outgoing majority, which remains intact in parliament.

By Fanny Carrier

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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.