Renzi to quit after Budget is passed

Italian PM agrees to delay departure in wake of referendum loss after talking to President

ROME • For once, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi doesn't seem to be in a hurry.

A day after Italians overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional overhaul on which he had staked his tenure, Mr Renzi, 41, made a sombre visit on Monday evening to the Quirinal, once home to popes and now the President of the Italian Republic, to formally tender his resignation.

President Sergio Mattarella asked him to postpone it for a few days while his government finished a Budget. Mr Renzi, usually in a rush, agreed.

For Italians, who have seen 63 governments in 70 years, Monday's resignation made for a ritual as familiar as the morning espresso, even as the stakes seemed far higher this time. The immediate question is whether the President, usually a ceremonial figure, would form a caretaker government staffed with technocrats, or convince rival political parties to form a coalition government, or call for new elections next year.

Elections might be the most satisfying for a restive public, except that an electoral law approved last year is under court review and may now be obsolete after Sunday's referendum.

DON'T GO, MATTEO

It would be more destabilising if he steps down as party leader than as prime minister.

PROFESSOR ROBERTO D'ALIMONTE, a political scientist at Luiss Guido Carli University, on Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's impending resignation.

For Italians who keep insisting they are hungry for change, Monday's vote had the effect of ushering in an Italian Groundhog Day.

Many attributed Mr Renzi's downfall to haughtiness, and to tying his political fate to the outcome of the referendum. And just about everyone agreed that a strong anti-establishment wave had washed Mr Renzi out.

For the moment, new elections seem unlikely. That could well thwart the ambitions of comedian Beppe Grillo who leads the populist Five Star Movement, an Internet-based and ideologically unorthodox party with socially liberal, economically populist and tough law-and-order views.

Financial markets are also seeking much-needed stability, particularly with Italy's banking sector teetering under the weight of bad loans and fears of a run on Italian banks. The Tuscan bank Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena is looking to raise €5 billion (S$7.6 billion) this month to avoid being wound down.

Measures to allow state aid for the bank are ready, with the Italian lender's hopes of pulling off a privately backed fund-raising fading, three sources said yesterday.

The more likely option now, according to several analysts, is that Mr Mattarella would form a new coalition government most likely led by a member of Mr Renzi's Cabinet.

Mr Mattarella will almost surely demand that the caretaker government he appoints reconcile the electoral law before he sets a date for early elections.

The law created a run-off system between national candidates that awards the winner a bonus of seats in the Lower House of Parliament. Those extra seats give the electoral winner a parliamentary majority and essentially ensures a full, collapse-proof term. But it was tied up with Sunday's referendum and now that the constitutional changes have been defeated, the new electoral law is also moot.

It could be that Mr Renzi might return to power in the next elections. He lost 60 per cent of the vote in Sunday's referendum - yet that "No" vote belongs to many parties, not just one. Mr Renzi showed that the other 40 per cent of Italians are either behind him or his reform agenda. For now, his immediate fight, should he choose to remain relevant, is to retain his position as leader of his Democratic Party.

"It would be more destabilising if he steps down as party leader than as prime minister," said Professor Roberto D'Alimonte, a political scientist at Luiss Guido Carli University.

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2016, with the headline 'Renzi to quit after Budget is passed'. Print Edition | Subscribe