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Constitutional referendum in Italy Constitutional referendum in Italy  (ANSA)

Italians vote "Yes" to downsize Parliament

Italians voted by a wide margin in a referendum to slash the size of the country's parliament by more than a third. The referendum was held alongside several key regional elections taking the pulse of political sentiment in times of Covid-19.

By Susy Hodges

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Italians turned out in large numbers for the referendum. They were voting to approve a law that amends the Italian constitution and which had already been passed in parliament.  Specifically, the law reduces the number of lawmakers from 630 to 400 in the Chamber of Deputies and from 315 to 200 in the Senate. It means the total number of parliamentarians will be cut from the present 945 to 600.

The referendum had cross-party support but had been strongly pushed in particular by the Five Star Movement which is the main party in Italy’s governing coalition. Five Star says the reduction will streamline parliament, reduce corruption and save hundreds of millions of euros in salaries and expenses. In a post on Twitter, Five Star had said the bill would save the country one billion euros over 10 years.

However, critics had argued that the move would weaken democracy and increase the influence of lobbyists in parliament. 

The vote was originally scheduled for May but was delayed due to the pandemic which has killed more than 35,000 people in Italy.

Five Star said the referendum’s outcome showed voters still responded to the party's anti-establishment, reform-minded ethos.

Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party which is part of the government coalition said the victory of the “Yes” vote opened the way for a season of reforms.

Regional and Municipal elections

The referendum was held alongside several key regional elections. Here the results were seen as a boost for the Democratic Party but a setback for Matteo Salvini’s rightwing League Party.

Salvini, a former Interior Minister, had been hoping to make big gains, especially in Tuscany which has been ruled by centre-left parties for over 50 years.  But the results showed that the League and a rightwing ally only managed to score a victory in the region of Marche in central Italy.

In addition to the regional poll, Italians were also voting in local elections to choose over 1,000 mayors.

The regional election was seen as a test for the government over its handling of the pandemic. Italy was the first European country to issue a lockdown and was an early epicentre of the virus.

However, in recent weeks the country has avoided, up to now, seeing a very sharp spike in the number of cases, unlike many of its European neighbours.

Listen to the report by Susy Hodges


22 September 2020, 16:06