Italian vote could amend post-war constitution

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Supporters wave flags during a rally led by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in downtown Rome, Italy October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo - RTSTT5D

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ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  Italians vote tomorrow in a referendum to change their post- World War II constitution in the hopes of alleviating the gridlock that plagues the country’s central government.  Italy’s prime minister for most of the past three years, Matteo Renzi, says he’ll resign if the referendum fails.

“NewsHour Weekend” special correspondent Christopher Livesay joins me from Rome to discuss the referendum and its potential impact on the European Union.

Christopher, what are the driving forces behind “yes” on the referendum, let’s change the way the government works?  And what’s the driving forces behind “no,” let’s not do that?

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY, NEWSHOUR WEEKEND SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, so, the idea behind voting yes is quite simple.  It’s to change the constitution, to ultimately streamline the political system here.  Italy is notoriously difficult to govern.  It’s had 63 governments in the last 70 years.

One of the main reasons for that is, if you want to pass a law, it tends to get stuck between both a senate and a house.  And the idea would be to shrink the senate so you make the house a little more powerful, and you can get a law through that way and generate more stability in the Italian government.  And with more governmental stability, the idea is you would have more economic stability as well.

The people voting “no” on this are upset with the powers this would give to the prime minister.  The constitution in Italy, as you mentioned, came after World War II.  You have to think about who was in charge in Italy during World War II and before World War II.  That was none other than the dictator Benito Mussolini.

So, the constitution was written in a way to keep the prime minister from becoming too powerful, but in the process, it’s generated a lot of gridlock.  There’s still a large portion of the Italian electorate that’s still undecided.  It’s about 30 percent of Italians still don’t know two which way they’re going to vote on this thing.

ALISON STEWART: One of the things that’s interesting about this election is the domino effect it could have, if Renzi does, indeed, resign, and then it opens it up for others to take place, take his place.  Obviously, the Five Star Movement is the one we’re hearing a lot about.

Tell us a little bit about the Five Star Movement, who supports it, and who its leader is.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:  It’s a catch-all party.  They tend to oppose anything that the government proposes, but one thing that we can say about them is that they’re populist, they’re anti-establishment, and they’re anti-euro.

The leader of this party is a charismatic stand-up comic by the name of Beppe Grillo.  He is sort of gleefully vulgar and has a way of just connecting with people, unlike any other politician on the scene right now.  That might ring a bell with viewers in the United States.

Beppe Grillo has proposed giving Italians a referendum on their membership to the euro zone, and that could send some serious economic shockwaves all across the common currency area.

ALISON STEWART: Christopher Livesay from Italy — thank you so much.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:  Thanks for having me.

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