Renzi’s Hopes for Referendum Rise With Five-Star Trouble in Rome

  • Five Star Movement Mayor Raggi suffers mass resignation
  • Referendum on constitutional reform expected in November

A slew of resignations in Rome’s city hall is boosting Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s chances of victory in the referendum this fall on which he’s staked his future.

Renzi told Italy’s business and financial elite gathered for a conference in Cernobbio that he’s “sincerely very convinced” that he’ll win voters round to his plans to curtail the powers of the Senate before the ballot expected in late November, even though polls show the outcome is uncertain.

“If the ‘No’ vote wins, there won’t be an invasion of locusts, it won’t be the end of the world: everything will stay the same,” Renzi told the conference. But if the ’Yes’ vote wins, then “Italy will be an easier country.”

His opponents in the Five Star Movement -- who aim to defeat the proposal and force Renzi’s ouster -- are fighting to contain their first high-profile crisis just three months after seizing control of Rome and Turin in local elections. In the span of just few hours on Thursday, Virginia Raggi, the capital’s 38-year-old mayor, received resignation letters from several members of her cabinet, including her chief of staff and the head of the city’s finances.

Virginia Raggi

Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

The mass exodus may damage the movement’s claim that it, and not Renzi, is best placed to turn Italy around after years of stagnation. Raggi defeated the candidate from the prime minister’s Democratic Party in the race to control the country’s capital last June.

‘Jobs for the Boys’

Renzi himself is trying to make Italy’s political system more flexible and less expensive through his constitutional reform, and initially promised to step down if he lost the vote. The proposal would reduce the number of senators to 100 from 315 and limit the chamber’s power to bring down governments.

It would mean “fewer jobs for the boys, fewer politicians,” Renzi said. “A country which is less agile is a country which is less strong,” he added, reminding his audience of the 63 governments and 27 prime ministers Italy has seen since the end of World War II.

Renzi’s attempts to win Italians’ support is being hampered by an economy that stalled in the second quarter, according to data published by the Institute for National Statistics on Friday.

The combination of zero growth, an influx of migrants from the Middle East and political instability creates concerns over the country’s economy, former Prime Minister Enrico Letta, said in a television interview with Bloomberg’s Flavia Rotondi from Cernobbio. Italy’s economic outlook is “not ideal,” he said.

Back in Rome, all eye are on Raggi’s next move, with local media reporting that she is already head-hunting candidates to reboot her effort to overhaul the city’s byzantine administration and troubled finances.

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