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Italy's Renzi rules out government role if he loses referendum

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Thursday he would not take part in any efforts to form a temporary or technocratic government if he loses next month’s referendum on constitutional reform.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi speaks during a rally in downtown Rome, Italy October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Opinion polls suggest Renzi will lose the Dec. 4 ballot and he has said he would then resign. Many observers expect a temporary government then to be formed, possibly of technocrats without party affiliation, charged with drafting a new electoral system ahead of a potential early election.

The risk of Renzi’s departure and political instability in Italy, the euro zone’s third-largest economy, has sent jitters through financial markets, pushing up the yield investors demand to hold the country’s debt.

“If the people say “No” (in the referendum) and they want that decrepit, unworkable (constitutional) system, I cannot be the person who negotiates a deal with other parties to create a little government or one with a limited goal (to change the electoral system),” Renzi told radio station RTL.

“I’m not willing to take part in old-style political games. Either we change or I have no role to play,” said Renzi, who heads the ruling Democratic Party (PD).

Early in the referendum campaign Renzi, 41, said he would walk away from politics altogether and “do something else in life” if he lost. His latest comments again suggest he is tying his own fate closely to the outcome of the ballot.

His proposed constitutional change would scrap direct elections to the upper house Senate, drastically curbing its powers in a bid to simplify decision-making and boost stability.

Opponents say it will make the legislative process more complicated and less democratic.


The constitutional shakeup hands greater power to the lower house but does not change the makeup, which would be decided by a new and untested electoral system Renzi pushed through parliament last year.

That reform, which Renzi insisted at the time was ideal to produce a clear election winner and stable governments, introduces a two-round voting system and gives the winner a bonus of seats to ensure an ample majority in the lower house.

But mainstream parties fear that a combination of the two-round voting system for the lower house and the proposed changes to the Senate will end up creating an over-powerful executive and a lack of checks and balances.

With the anti-system 5-Star Movement now ahead in opinion polls, Renzi apparently also shares such concerns and said on Thursday that if he wins the Dec. 4 referendum he would seek to further revise the electoral law.

A new electoral law could be approved in a matter of weeks if major parties, including Renzi’s PD, rallied behind it, some analysts say.

But if Renzi loses the referendum, political paralysis beckons, with Italy potentially heading into elections with different voting rules applying for the two chambers.

Worryingly for Renzi, every one of 34 surveys conducted by 12 different pollsters since Oct. 21 shows the ‘No’ camp ahead, and generally by a widening margin.

A poll by the CISE agency published in Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper on Thursday put ‘No’ ahead by 34 percent to 29 percent with 37 percent undecided or planning to abstain.

Additional reporting by Gavin Jones, writing by Isla Binnie and Gavin Jones; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Gareth Jones