“I lost,” said Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. “My government’s term ends here. I believe that to change this political system in which the leaders are always the same and we exchange roles but not the country, you cannot pretend that everyone sticks to their own habits even more than their own seats.”
Shortly after midnight, Renzi stood in front of the cameras at the Chigi Palace and presented his resignation as prime minister on live TV. This afternoon, he will visit the president to formalize it, in respect of the Italian Constitution that voters would not allow him to change for the worse. Renzi became emotional when he thanked his wife Agnese and their children. Then he sent “a strong, affectionate hug” to his “friends on the Yes front.”
The story of the Renzi government ends here, buried by an avalanche of No votes in a referendum the prime minister tied to his tenure. In the latest results, 59 percent voted No, and 41 percent voted Yes.
It was a resounding defeat that was announced hours earlier as exit polls revealed a startling margin for No. More than one hour before the closing of the polls, in theory, the exit polls should still be under embargo. But the news was sensational and couldn’t be held back from the websites and the TV channels about to begin their marathon coverage.
The defeat was perhaps not unexpected, but no one predicted the size of the rejection. Perhaps, on a smaller scale, the result of the recent administrative elections were an appetizer, a premonition, though Renzi and his followers did not seem able to see it.
The failure of the reform is a jolt to the governing Democratic Party. At the Nazareno, the party headquarters, the confidential surveys circulated among the desks for days, leaving no room for doubt. Impervious to the reality knocking at their door, those at the Bastaunsì Committee did not stop the propaganda. One of the last text messages distributed to the lists of voters said: “We are in strong recovery. We are on the verge of winning. The efforts of these last hours can be decisive. Full speed ahead, just a Yes.” By midnight Sunday, these messages seemed a grotesque mockery, from a party (and a government) that wanted to stubbornly accelerate and instead crashed at full speed into the wall of its own filter bubble.
Lorenzo Guerini had the unenviable task of making the first statement at 11 p.m. The Deputy Secretary was ashen and laconic. “Renzi will speak at a press conference in an hour. In addition to evaluating the results being received, we will convene the party’s teams in a few days, and on Tuesday, we will convene the national leadership for the analysis of the referendum.”
Renzi is expected to tender his official resignation within the next few hours. The voters have shown they do not appreciate anything about him: the reform, the arrogance, the insults to friends and foes, the toxic narrative of his own laws, the thousand days in office — 1,000 days of mistakes to meditate upon.
On the other side, “the rabble” rejoices, each with its own style. The first to pounce was Matteo Salvini of the far-right Northern League, demanding Renzi’s resignation: “If the data is confirmed, Italians have demolished Renzi.” Giorgia Meloni and Renato Brunetta, ministers in the Berlusconi government, followed in turn.
But the next government will have to draft a new electoral law, after the Constitutional Court delivers its opinion about Italicum. Unless the Court scratches it out completely.
From the left, the messages were completely different. The “rabble” is not a unified political front, as Renzi and his followers repeated over and over during the referendum campaign, an unconvincing all points bulletin. Arturo Scotto, of the Italian Left, called on the president to take action if Renzi didn’t resign on his own. Roberto Speranza of the Democratic Party opposition simply said: “We were right.”
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