In a period of great change marked by Donald Trump's election, Italy too looks to changing. Italy’s constitution was drafted in the aftermath of twenty years of Fascist dictatorship and a disastrous world war. Its architects were more worried about avoiding another dictatorship and did little to guarantee the country’s governability. In regard to the first aim, they produced a constitution that is a hymn to Democracy, but with 63 governments in nearly seven decades they clearly failed to provide stable governability which is the basis for true Democracy.

Referendum and the need for reform

On December 4th Italians will go to the polling booths to approve or reject amendments to the Constitution approved by the Parliament earlier this year.

In the style of Italian politics, two contrasting coalitions have formed which gather together parties with opposing political aims and agendas. In particular the loose coalition that opposes the changes includes not only opposition parties, but also members of the ruling coalition, left wing Labor Unions and members of the wartime partisans who opposed the dictatorship, paradoxically with groups that do not hide their clear Fascist leanings.

For years Italians have complained about a political system that is as much a system of backroom deals as it is a parliamentary democracy. The rise of Matteo Renzi three years ago to Head of Government is one such example, and while it conformed to the current Constitution, it heated up even more the theatre of Italian politics. In fact, due in part to some unwise comments by Renzi early in the campaign, those opposing the changes to the Constitution did so as much to force his resignation as due to any inherent faults they saw in the amendments.

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There are even politicians who approved the amendments in parliament and for this very reason are now campaigning for a No vote in the referendum.

While the aim of those favoring the Yes vote is clear, those that oppose it simply state their opposition to the changes. Unfortunately this too is in characteristic with post-war Italian politics -- where long term planning has been the exception and not the rule. While it is obvious that approval of the amendments will lead to changes to Italy’s system of government, the opposition has no plans for future amendments to a constitution which many of them privately admit requires changes.

Consitutional change is not enough

In addition, the changes required to improve the governability of the country cannot be limited solely to its Constitution, but also to its parliamentary and electoral systems which are unable to form stable coalitions. In parliament the politicians’ votes are secret and this has led to the socalled “franchi tiratori” (snipers) which often use use this regulation to vote against their party lines to destabilize leaders, or even to create confusion in parliament.

The fact that the fall of a government does not lead to new national elections as happens in other countries, but to new consultations for the appointment of a new Prime Minster and then new parliamentary confidence motions, means that the fall of governments are often matters of internal coalition cohesion and conflict rather than any true failure in its politics. In fact, this was how the once powerful Christian Democrats were able to hold on to power for so many decades after the war. These and other factors have led to the long time frames for approving laws and to the fragility of many national governments in Italy.

The polls are too close to call a result for the referendum, all we can do is await the outcome and hope that the result leads to true changes in a political system where staying in power is the priority and not governing the country. Renzi has staked his future on the referendum, unfortunately many in the opposition do not yet truly appreciare that they are also playing with the future of their country.