Matteo Renzi announces his resignation following defeat in a referendum on electoral reform. Rome, Italy, December 5, 2016.(Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

Matteo Renzi announces his resignation following defeat in a referendum on electoral reform. Rome, Italy, December 5, 2016.(Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

In a referendum on Sunday, Italians rejected constitutional electoral reform proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. As with other recent global referendums, the question put to voters encompassed much more than the proposed changes. The official debate focused on whether the reforms would facilitate a more efficient democratic process, as proponents claimed, or allow the concentration of too much power in the hands of the government and the leading political party. The poll also became a vote on the premiership of Renzi, who had promised to resign if his proposal was rejected, and confirmed his intention to do so as soon as the results were announced.

By extension, some interpreted the referendum as a choice between political continuity on the one hand and, on the other, a leadership vacuum and potential repercussions that could threaten the financial stability of the European Union’s third largest economy (excluding the departing United Kingdom) and a founding member of the bloc. Given the recent global wave of anti-establishment protest, including the election of Donald Trump in the United States and Britain’s decision to leave the EU, the Italian results were also interpreted as another blow to the European establishment and the global political and economic order, though this reading is far-fetched.

It is difficult to untangle the exact reasons that led Italians to reject the reform by a clear majority of 59.1% over 40.1%. This was, nonetheless, Renzi’s proposal, and one he explicitly attached to his premiership. All other political forces in Italy, from the far right to the populist left, as well as some figures from within the prime minister’s own Democratic Party, campaigned for the “no” vote. Read more