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Italy

Media silence on eve of Italy's crucial referendum

Italy heads to the polls Sunday to decide whether or not to fundamentally alter the structure of its government. Faced with a media blackout, Italians went online to express thanks for the end of a bitter campaign.

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Renzi implores Italians to vote 'Yes'

Media silence blanketed Italy on Saturday, one day before a key referendum that will determine the future of the country's government. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has staked his own career on his proposed reforms, vowing to step down should a "No" vote succeed.

On Friday, the premier ended a whirlwind campaign of rallies and town hall speeches as polls continued to show his "Yes" camp lagging behind. On social media, Italians celebrated the end of the fraught campaign, with #silenzioelettorale ("electoral silence") the top trending hashtag for several hours.

Although the minutiae of the referendum are myriad and complicated, it boils down to whether or not the Italian electorate wants to streamline its famously unwieldy parliament and centralize more power with the executive.

However, by promising to step down, Renzi has conflated the constitutional question with support for himself and his Democratic Party (PD), leading many to speculate that a "No" vote may prevail as a protest against the premier and the establishment.

Renzi has been banking on the hope that the "Yes" side might be buoyed by fear of a return to the era of former premier Silvio Berlusconi, a man who has welcomed comparisons to Donald Trump, or worries about the unknown quantity that is the 5-Star Movement (M5S) taking power in the Palazzo Chigi, the prime minister's office.

An unknown quantity

M5S has been the focus of much of the international media attention during the campaign. Its nebulous anti-establishment policies make it difficult to pin down. The spokesman of the ostensibly left-leaning populists, the comic Beppe Grillo, made the surprising move of hailing Trump's electoral win, writing in his popular blog that the people were ready to turn their back on the status quo.

Although they have some seats in parliament, the only blueprint for a M5S government is the municipality of Rome, which saw Virginia Raggi elected mayor in June with a promise to fight corruption. Thus far, however, her administration has been mired in high-profile resignations and questions about some of her picks for top appointments.

In a recent letter to Italians abroad, Prime Minister Renzi asked them not to continue Italy's role as a "laughing stock" for having had "63 governments in 70 years." However, as of November 18, the last day official pollsters were allowed to publish results, the "No" side was still enjoying a healthy lead. Although such an outcome is unlikely to herald inescapable catastrophe, it would prove another blow to mainstream politics in the year of Trump and Brexit.

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