• Reform aims at ending Italy's revolving-door governments
  • Renzi has said he would resign if Senate overhaul is rejected

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi won an early vote in what he calls “the mother of all battles” of his premiership, a transformation of Italy’s Senate aimed at giving the country more stable government.

The chamber of deputies voted on Monday by 367 to 194 to limit the powers of the upper house, including the possibility of bringing down governments, and to reduce the number of senators to 100 from 315. Italy has seen 63 governments since the end of World War II, leading to the push to streamline the legislature.

“For years, the political class has done nothing, now there is a new government which has tried to make some things happen,” Renzi told the Rai Uno TV channel on Sunday before the vote. “If on this mother of all battles -- the constitutional reform -- citizens disagree, they have the right to say so and I have the duty to take it into account.” 

“I’m not an old-style politician who remains stuck to his armchair. I believe you are in politics to follow an ideal,” Renzi said. “I’m convinced the Italians are with us, but they will have the last word and I am ready to take the consequences.”

Reform Fate

Renzi has repeatedly staked his government’s fate on the reform, saying he would quit if it was rejected. After Monday’s vote, the bill must go back to the Senate and then to the lower chamber again for approval. Renzi has said he then wants to hold a referendum on the issue, which is expected to take place in October.

Under the proposal, most bills will no longer have to be approved by both the Senate and the lower chamber to become law, and the Senate will lose the power to bring down governments with a vote of no confidence. Senators will no longer be directly elected, and they will be replaced by regional councilors and mayors who won’t be paid.

Some opposition parties have criticized the reform as giving too much power to the executive branch. Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the center-right Forza Italia, has said giving only one chamber lawmaking power and allowing a single party to be in command, “lead us straight toward a non-democracy.”