Rome, November 25, 2016
(The author of this submission is a retired senior Italian diplomatic officer)
ITALY AND THE MYTH OF "POLITICAL STABILITY"
Summary: The Italian Government is staking its future on a popular referendum on very controversial constitutional amendments. Should the referendum succeed, it will enhance the risk of an authoritarian drift, in the name of "Stability".-
The year 2016 may well be remembered not only for the triumph of populism, but also as the "year of the referendums". This mode of consultation, rather frequently employed in some countries (e.g. Switzerland and Italy), but more rarely seen elsewhere, was brought to the world's attention by becoming a prime political issue in countries as disparate as the United Kingdom, Hungary and Colombia. Indeed, even the controversial outcome of the U.S. presidential elections has been seen by some as a "plebiscite" in favour of populist positions, giving renewed impetus to some of the most active populist movements in Europe, and acting, therefore, as an unofficial "super-referendum" which has cut across national borders.
Italy itself is in anxious expectation for a referendum on "Constitutional Reform" scheduled to take place on December 4. This episode appeared unlikely to attract international attention, but has, instead, unexpectedly become a major issue with a number of western leaders, especially in the European Union. Even president Obama, in one of his last international acts, a formal meeting with Prime Minister Renzi, urged Italians to vote "yes", thus endorsing a basically unpopular government which has most unwisely wagered its continued existence on the success of the referendum. To many of its critics, the referendum itself appears as a planned instrument to give sweeping powers to the Government, weakening parliamentary control and thus opening the door to a possible authoritarian drift, all in the name of "political stability", a recurring theme in most discussions concerning Italy, even though the few Governments which have, in the past, shown signs of durability have certainly not worked to the country's advantage.
Nevertheless, like a baton in relay race, for the past two decades or so the mantra of "political stability" has been passed on from one Italian Government to the next without achieving any appreciable result except for the gradual erosion of democratic principles and the ever more constant and visible drift towards more authoritarian, and not for this any more "efficient", forms of Government, with the pusillanimous, guilty acquiescence of the leading Italian and International media.
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