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Constitutional reform Expat Italians could sway Italy referendum

Italy's minister for constitutional reform, Maria Elena Boschi, visited Italian expats in Zurich last month.


Italy’s sizeable diaspora – with the third-largest community in Switzerland - could tilt Italy’s crucial vote on Sunday on major reforms to the country’s constitution.

Around four million Italians living abroad are eligible to cast their ballots on centre-left prime minister Matteo Renzi’s proposal to drastically reduce the power of Italy’s upper house, the Senate, and take back powers from regional authorities.

Failure at the ballot box could lead to the fall of Renzi’s government and spark political and financial crises that could eventually take Italy out of the eurozone, further destabilising Europe, according to the Economistexternal link.

Depending on voter turnout, the expat community could account for up to 7% of all ballots cast. That could tip the balance, since the last opinion poll has given the ‘no’ camp a lead of only a couple of percentage points.

Although the reform would reduce political gridlock, opponents argue that it will also strip Italy of critical democratic checks and balances.

An issue hotly debated among the nearly half a million strong Italian community in Switzerland will be the loss of expat representation in the Senate, since in future senators will only be answerable to their regions. That will leave them with only 12 of around 600 parliamentarians in the lower house to look after their interests. But if the reforms are approved, this chamber will have more power.

Expat votes ‘unconstitutional’?

The man heading Italy’s ‘no’ committee, Alessandro Pace, has expressed concern about the importance of the expat vote, announcing that he will appeal if they sway the outcome in favour of a ‘yes’. Pace has said voting by mail as Italians abroad are allowed to do is unconstitutional because it cannot be considered a secret ballot.

Based on the unprecedented number of political debates held over the past few months in Switzerland, a large expat voter turnout is expected (voting deadline for expats was 4pm on Thursday).

Dino Nardi, coordinator of the committee in Switzerland fighting for a yes vote, told that his group alone had held about a hundred public meetings since the end of August.

They boasted headline speakers who travelled north from Italy, including the minister in Renzi’s government responsible for the reform, Maria Elena Boschiexternal link.

The awareness that every vote for this crucial reform counts also led constitutional experts opposed to the changes to put Switzerland on their campaign trail.

The three Italian expats in Switzerland who are members of the Italian parliament have also been closely involved in the debates. All three – Claudio Micheloni, Gianni Farina and Alessio Tacconi – are members of Renzi’s Democratic Party.

Farina and Tacconi support the reforms. It may come as no surprise that Micheloni, the only senator among them, is opposed.

Adapted from Italian by Dale Bechtel

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