As Charles Dickens would have put it, after the day of Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” for the cities of Vienna and Rome. The presidential re-run in Austria and the constitutional referendum in Italy have been expected to be a confirmation (or not) of the Brexit-Trump factor. As it turned out, it was a day with some bad news and some good news.
Presidential elections in Austria are held once every six years, under a two-round system, and the president is directly elected. Incumbent president Heinz Fischer (Social Democratic Party/SPO, center left) had served two terms and was not eligible for a third successive term.
On April 24, 2016, in the first round of the elections, Norbert Hofer (Freedom Party of Austria/FPO, rightwing populist) received the most votes, but under 50 percent, and Alexander Van der Bellen, a former SPO member (The Greens/DG, left), placed second. On May 22, in the second round runoff, Van der Bellen defeated Hofer after the postal ballots were counted.
The results were challenged and the Constitutional Court of Austria found that almost 78,000 absentee votes were improperly counted. The court annulled the results, and planned a re-vote of the second round on Oct. 2, which was eventually postponed to Dec. 4.
On Dec. 4, the voter turnout was estimated to be 74.1 percent and Van der Bellen was in the lead with 53.3 percent of votes, with Hofer second with 46.7 percent of votes. Hofer conceded the race to Van der Bellen in an election with a troubled history, which was called “a blow to the populist movement.” Although Hofer was not specifically for the country’s exit from the European Union, his opponent was perceived as a better choice for the Austrians, who support EU membership in “an overwhelming majority.”
Hofer’s victory would have been considered “of the same magnitude as Britain’s vote for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president last month.”
In spite of his defeat (at a narrow margin at almost 47 percent), Hofer said his party is “now in pole position for the parliamentary elections in 2018” and promised that he would run again for the next presidential elections, planned to be held in 2022.
Anyhow, Austria (where immigration has been a top issue) was a close call from the Brexit-Trump hot wave.
On April 8, 2014 the Prime Minister Matteo Renzi (Democratic Party/PD, center left) introduced a bill in the Senate that amended the Italian constitution, with the aim of reforming the composition and powers of the parliament (the bill reduced number of parliament members, the role of the Senate and the Regions). The bill was eventually approved by Senate on Jan. 20, 2016, and Chamber on April 12, 2016. According to the Article 138 of the Italian constitution, because the amendment failed to be approved by a majority of two-thirds in each house of parliament, it would become law if it received the support of a majority of votes cast in a national referendum.
If approved by referendum, the constitutional amendment would have achieved the most extensive reform—in terms of enlarging the government powers—since the end of monarchy (in 1946). Also, this was the third constitutional referendum in the history of the Italian Republic. Previously, there were referenda in 2001 (approving the amending law) and 2006 (rejecting the amending law).
Matteo Renzi, the youngest Italian prime minister (nominated in 2014, when he was just 39), regarded by some of being too arrogant, was confident in the parliamentary support of his agenda, and put a personal spin on the referendum (popularly called “Renzirendum”), claiming that he would resign in case of a negative vote.
As the first results have indicated, the referendum was a major blow of his policies. Around 60 percent of the Italians voted “no,” Renzi conceded defeat on Dec. 5, before official results were announced, and he announced his resignation.
Now it is up to President Sergio Mattarella (also PD) to either call for immediate elections, as the leaders of the main opposition parties demanded (the Five Star Movement/M5S, populist, and the Lega Nord/LN, regionalist), or to opt for a caretaker government (of the same PD) until the May 2018 elections, in order to prevent a financial earthquake.
After Renzi’s defeat, the euro dropped. However, the euro’s drop was not as far as the British pound after the Brexit.
And so, Italy, the third EU economy (where unemployment and immigration have been the top issues), has become the first European country hit by the effect of the Brexit-Trump hot wave. (Tiberiu Dianu, Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Tiberiu Dianu has published several books and over 100 articles in law, politics, and post-communist societies. He currently lives and works in Washington, D.C.