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Renzi's future at stake as Italy votes in crucial referendum

Claudio Giovannini, AFP | Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife Agnese Landini vote for a referendum on constitutional reforms, on December 4, 2016 at a polling station in Florence.

Italy votes in a referendum Sunday that will show whether the same anti-establishment sentiment that propelled President-elect Donald Trump to power in the US and led to the UK's exit from the European Union is equally forceful in Italy.


Voters are being asked for a single yes-or-no vote on a series of complicated constitutional changes proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, but the plebiscite has taken on far more meaning than just the streamlining of the political and electoral systems.

The vote has, for many, become a referendum on Renzi himself, who has said he will resign if the measure fails. The chopping-block aspect of the vote is heightened by the near-incomprehensibility of the many measures contained in the single document, many of which are intricate and obtuse.

The risk of political instability has triggered market reaction before the vote, with bank stocks sinking and the borrowing costs on sovereign debt rising.

The main measure is an overhaul to the Italian Senate, reducing its membership from 315 elected senators to 100, who would be chosen among regional representatives and mayors. The Senate, which currently has equal power in the crafting of legislation as the lower house of parliament, would become a largely consultative body whose decisions would, on most matters, be non-binding, effectively rendering the Italian parliament unicameral. The Senate would lose the power to bring down governing coalitions.

The proposals would also take much of the decision-making power away from regional governments and return it to Rome.

Proponents say the measure would make the notoriously unwieldy legislative process work more smoothly. Critics say it centralizes too much power with the executive branch.

With Renzi putting his political future on the line, the referendum has become more about him than about the proposal. A former mayor of Florence who was not elected prime minister but came to power at the age of 39 after pushing out his fellow Democrat, Prime Minister Enrico Letta, he has a lot of people gunning for him, both within his centre-left Democratic Party and without.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) Sunday and close at 11 p.m. local time.

>>Read more on Threat of Brexit contagion hangs over Italy's referendum

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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