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Sunday, December 4, 2016

European Politics Stabilize, Sort of

Italy Votes 'NO'; Austria Rejects Hofer

Italy PM Matteo Renzi quits after
crushing vote loss
Renzi's defeat seen as another victory for wave
of populist politics sweeping world

    Matteo Renzi  Image Credit: AFP

In reality it is an expression of a lack of faith in Italian
oligarchs to do the right thing if given more power!
AFP

Rome: Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced his resignation on Monday, hours after learning he had suffered a crushing defeat in a referendum on constitutional reform.

"My experience of government finishes here," Renzi told a press conference, acknowledging that the No campaign had won an "extraordinarily clear" victory in a vote on which he had staked his future.

Interior Ministry projections suggested the No camp, led by the populist Five Star Movement, had been backed by 59.5 percent of those who voted.

Nearly 70 percent of Italians entitled to vote on Sunday cast their ballots, an exceptionally high turnout that reflected the high stakes and the intensity of the various issues involved.

Renzi said he would be visiting President Sergio Mattarella on Monday to hand in his resignation following a final meeting of his cabinet.


Mattarella will then be charged with brokering the appointment of a new government or, if he can't do that, ordering early elections.

Most analysts see the most likely scenario as being Renzi's administration being replaced by a caretaker one dominated by his Democratic Party which will carry on until an election due to take place by the spring of 2018.

Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan is the favourite to succeed Renzi as the President of the Council of Ministers, as Italy's premier is formally titled

'Unequivocal' defeat

The scale of the No victory was even bigger than opinion polls had been indicating up until November 18, after which the media were banned from publishing survey results.

Renzi's departure will plunge Italy into a new phase of political uncertainty and possible economic turmoil.

The main opposition parties went into the vote insisting that there should be early elections if the proposals - curtailing the size and powers of Italy's Senate and transferring powers from regions to the national government - were defeated.

Renzi had gone into the final weekend of the campaign insisting he could still win voters around but he acknowledged he had failed. "The Italian people spoke today in unequivocal fashion," he said.

Opposition parties had denounced the proposed amendments to the 68-year-old constitution as dangerous for democracy because they would have removed important checks and balances on executive power.

Spearheaded by Five Star, the biggest rival to Renzi's Democratic party, the "No" campaign also capitalised on Renzi's declining popularity, a sluggish economy and the problems caused by tens of thousands of migrants arriving in Italy from Africa.

Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right Northern League said Renzi should resign immediately and called for early elections.

"God willing it's over. A new era starts tomorrow I hope," he had said earlier in the day.

Populist triumph

The No vote represents a major victory for Five Star leader Beppe Grillo, who had urged Italians to follow their gut instincts.

Renzi's backers believed they were voting for overdue change.

Outside a polling station in Rome, business owner Raffaele Pasquini, 37, told AFP he had voted "Yes" in the interest of his two-year-old son.

"We are voting to try and change a country that has been stalled for far too long," he said.

With the euro dipping on the news of Renzi's exit, further market turbulence looks inevitable, at least in the short term.

And some analysts fear a deeper crisis of investor confidence that could derail a rescue scheme for Italy's most indebted banks, triggering a wider financial crisis across the eurozone.

After the Brexit vote and Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential election, the No vote is likely to be interpreted as another victory for populist forces and a potential stepping stone to government for Grillo's Five Star.

But the campaign was not just about popular discontent with the state of Italy. Many Italians of a similar political bent to Renzi had deep reservations about the proposed changes to the constitution.

Under the proposals, the second-chamber Senate, currently a body of 315 directly-elected and five lifetime lawmakers, would have been reduced to only 100 members, mostly nominated by the regions.

The chamber would also have been stripped of most of its powers to block and revise legislation, and to unseat governments.


Austria's far-right Norbert Hofer concedes
in election re-run
By Allen Cone UPI

Right-wing Austrian Freedom Party presidential candidate Norbert Hofer gestures during a TV interview at the Hofburg palace after polls closed Sunday in the re-run of the Austrian presidential elections run-off in Vienna, Austria. Hofer conceded to Alexander Van der Bellen. Photo by Christian Bruna/European Pressphoto Agency

VIENNA, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Far-right candidate Norbert Hofer conceded defeat against independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen in a re-run election Sunday.

Official results are not expected until Monday, but exit polls announced by state broadcaster ORD showed with Van der Bellen with 53.6 percent of the vote compared with 46.4 for Hofer. Polls before Sunday's vote suggested the result was too close to call.

In May, Van der Bellen, a former Green Party leader, defeated Hofer by little more than 30,000 votes in a tightly fought contest decided by mail-in ballots. But Hofer and his party challenged the results and they were annulled because of concerns of how the ballots were handled.

"I am incredibly sad it didn't work out," Hofer wrote in a concession statement on Facebook. "I would have loved to look after Austria. I congratulate Alexander Van der Bellen to his success and ask all Austrians to stick together ... We are all Austrians, no matter what we decided today. Long live our home Austria."

Patience, Mr Hofer, you are a young man and politics is like a pendulum, the further left Austria swings, the further right it will swing back eventually. And it will probably be sooner rather than later.

The Austrian president's role is largely ceremonial but a victory by Hofer would have made Austria the first nation with a far-right head of state in Western Europe since the end of World War II.

Hofer, the 45-year-old candidate for the anti-immigration Freedom Party, campaigned on an anti-immigration platform. He first suggested Austria could follow Britain's vote to leave the European Union with a referendum of its own but later said to change the bloc into a purely economic association.

Van der Bellen, a 72-year-old economist whose parents spent time in a refugee camp before they settled in Austria, backs liberal migration policies and is an outspoken supporter of gay marriage.

On Sunday, after casting his ballot, Van der Bellen said the Austrian election was "of significance for all of Europe."

"Outside of Austria, the election is perceived as something that does not only concern us Austrians," he said.