Italian PM Matteo Renzi has suffered a heavy defeat in a key referendum on constitutional reform, according to a projection. The projection by the Piepoli Institute/IPR for state broadcaster RAI estimated 57-61% will vote “No”, compared to 39-43% for “Yes”.
The projection points to an even wider margin of defeat for Mr Renzi than was suggested by three exit polls released immediately after polls closed. Mr Renzi had staked his future on a “Yes” vote, vowing to resign if voters rejected his plans to reduce the role of the country’s Senate and take back powers from regional authorities.
Renzi is scheduled to address the Italian nation right about now.
Opposition parties were quick to call for Mr Renzi to go. “Renzi is going to go and with him the powerful lobbies who were also defeated”, Renato Brunetta, the parliamentary leader of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party. Matteo Salvini, the head of the Northern League party, said Mr Renzi should quit “in the coming minutes” and called for early elections.
Spearheaded by the populist Five Star Movement, the biggest rival to Mr Renzi’s Democratic party, the “No” campaign took advantage of the PM’s declining popularity, a struggling economy and problems caused by tens of thousands of migrants arriving from Africa.
The vote is a major victory for Five Star leader Beppe Grillo, who had urged Italians to follow their gut instincts.
If Mr Renzi resigns, it could plunge Italy into political turmoil and cause economic instability in the struggling eurozone country. The result is another blow to the European Union, which is struggling to overcome a number of crises and was keen for Mr Renzi to continue his reform drive.
It seems likely at this moment that the Renzi government will fall.
UPDATE: Renzi has resigned, according to the AP.