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Italian Premier to Resign After Losing Referendum, in Victory for Former Comedian

Variety logo Variety 12/5/2016 Nick Vivarelli
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ROME – Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced Monday that he will resign after losing a referendum on constitutional reforms, handing a major victory to former standup comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment 5-Star movement, which is now determined to lead the country.

Renzi had maintained that reforms to streamline Italy’s lawmaking process were key to kick-starting the Italian economy and modernizing the country. But the “No” campaign in Sunday’s referendum won resoundingly, with 59.1% of the vote, against 40.9% for the “Yes” side. More than two-thirds of Italy’s eligible voters cast ballots.

Italy’s filmmaking community had widely supported “Yes,” with Oscar-winning directors Paolo Sorrentino and Gabriele Salvatores, among many others, recently launching an appeal for what they called a “logical and natural choice.”

One possible implication of the “No” vote for Italy’s film and TV industries is that a long-awaited film funding law will now be stalled. The new legislation, which would raise production tax credits from the current 25% to 30% for international film and TV productions, has been been approved by both houses of parliament but still needs a final decree to go into effect.

The “No” victory at the polls is widely seen as the latest manifestation of a populist, anti-establishment wave sweeping the West, which includes the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S.

Grillo (pictured), who had a busy career as a TV comic and standup performer in large venues before turning to the Internet to launch the 5-Star movement, is a proponent of another referendum on Italy’s membership in the euro, which he opposes.

News of Renzi’s resignation sent the euro plunging to a 20-month low, close to parity against the dollar, amid fears that Italy’s instability will re-ignite a European financial crisis.

Renzi said he would hand in his resignation today to Italian President Sergio Mattarella. He is widely expected to be asked to remain in charge until a key budget bill can be passed later this month. Mattarella is then likely to appoint a caretaker government until elections scheduled for 2018, though he may be forced to call an early national vote. In either case, the 5-Star movement, now an opposition force, will be looking to gain power by riding Italy’s anti-establishment wave.

Former Italian prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi also campaigned for “No” and is attempting a political comeback, but his Forza Italia party has lost its luster and his tax-fraud conviction is keeping him out of public office.

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