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Italian Prime Minister Resigns After Voters Reject Constitutional Reform

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Italy's prime minister formally handed in his resignation today after suffering a defeat in Sunday's referendum on constitutional amendments. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports the government's collapse opened a period of uncertainty and added an element of instability in Europe.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Bowing to President Sergio Mattarella's request, Matteo Renzi had held off resigning until today after the Senate approved the 2017 budget. Before meeting the president, Renzi appeared before the Democratic Party leadership. With his customary self-confidence, he hailed his government's achievements.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATTEO RENZI: (Through interpreter) Today we leave this country with fewer taxes and with more rights, including same-sex civil unions. The Democratic Party should be proud of this.

POGGIOLI: Politicians from left to right are pressing for an early round of elections as soon as possible, but Mattarella insists Parliament must first approve a new election law, which means voting is unlikely before spring at the earliest.

Italians are accustomed to government crises. There have been more than 60 in the last 70 years, but this one was triggered by an unprecedented popular mood of anger and frustration with political leaders.

GIOVANNI ORSINA: Democracy is caught in a time trap. Governmental action needs time.

POGGIOLI: Giovanni Orsina is professor of political science at Rome's LUISS University. He says the referendum turned into a vote of no confidence in Renzi by an electorate increasingly impatient to see results.

ORSINA: In a weak institutional system such as the Italian system, politics are much more exposed to the changes and vagaries of public opinion.

POGGIOLI: A caretaker government will have to draft a new election law. Opinion polls suggest that as the law stands now, the big winner would be the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. Founded by stand-up comedian Beppe Grillo, it's a web-based organization without headquarters and claims to choose its candidates through online voting. Critics say it lacks transparency.

Grillo is allied in the European Parliament with the anti-EU champion Nigel Farage. The prospect of the Five Star Movement winning the next election is perhaps the one thing that could unite all the other Italian parties in a bid to draft a new election law that would ensure no single party can get an absolute majority. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.