Italy is to hold a referendum on constitutional reform on December 4 – a ballot that may decide the fate of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
He himself has refused to be drawn on his future, saying it should not dominate the debate but with most polls putting the “No” camp ahead his office has been forced to defend its position.
“We think that up until December 4th there is enough time left to develop a deep debate among citizens on the contents of the reforms which is the key subject,” said
Claudio de Vincenti, under-secretary of state for the prime minister’s office.
The reform, approved by parliament in April after nearly two years of fierce debate, effectively abolishes the Senate as an elected chamber, and prevents it from bringing down a government via a no-confidence vote.
Renzi’s critics maintain the ballot should have been held in early October as originally planned.
Opposition Sinistra Italian MP Alfredo d’Attorre said: “Renzi is choosing the last useful date with the expectation that a low turn-out in December might give some advantage to the yes camp.”
Renzi was confident of winning six months ago when he staked his political career on the result. But since then the economy has slowed unexpectedly, while unemployment remains stubbornly high and the Brexit vote has sent shockwaves across the EU.