In European Votes, Italy's Prime Minister To Step Down; Austria Elects Leftist

Dec 5, 2016
Originally published on December 5, 2016 9:46 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We've been watching, tracking political movements in this country and also around the world. And let's go to Europe now. You know, on the face of it, Austria and Italy were voting about totally different things yesterday. Austria held a runoff election for president. Italy was voting on changes to its constitution. But in both countries, the underlying question seemed to be about the future of Europe, and they seemed to make very different choices. Here's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Following the Brexit vote and Donald Trump's victory in the U.S., pollsters in Austria predicted a likely victory in the presidential runoff for Norbert Hoffler of the far-right anti-immigration Freedom Party. But the winner was former Greens leader and leftist Alexander Van der Bellen whose campaign warning was don't play with fire. The result, Van der Bellen said, is a signal of hope and positive change beamed from Vienna through Europe. And he was asked how he had won.

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ALEXANDER VAN DER BELLEN: (Through interpreter) We will probably never know exactly, but I think contributing were the thousands, no, tens of thousands of people completely independent from our campaign who rallied on our behalf.

POGGIOLI: But in Italy, voters sent a different message, challenging the country's position in the EU. With a huge turnout above 68 percent, 6 out of 10 voters rejected amendments the government said would modernize and revive its economy. The vote turned into a virtual vote of confidence on Prime Minister Matteo Renzi himself. Usually brash and confident, he held back tears acknowledging defeat.

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PRIME MINISTER MATTEO RENZI: (Through interpreter) I take full responsibility. In Italy, politicians never lose. They just hang on. But I lost and say it loudly. This government is over. The post that gets eliminated is mine.

POGGIOLI: Renzi had staked his political career on the outcome, saying he would resign if the no votes won. That energized the opposition, a motley crew ranging from right to left, including rivals within his own Democratic Party. Fueled by a poor economic outlook, they tapped into a growing anti-establishment mood. The real winner, many analysts say, is a new campaign style based on insults and the online spread of fake news. Addressing the victors of the no vote, Renzi said in this era of post-truth where many hide real facts, I ask you to carry out your mission faithfully for the good of the country.

The opposition cheered the outcome. The Euroskeptic Five Star Movement said its a defeat of what it called the arrogance of power and demanded immediate elections. Renzi will hand in his resignation today. President Sergio Mattarella can then either call snap elections or tap someone else to form a new government. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.