31st Oct 2020

Italians reject nuclear energy in further blow to Berlusconi

  • Rome. Tensions in Berlusconi's coalition are likely to further rise after the vote (Photo: Giampaolo Macorig)

Italians have rejected nuclear energy in a nationwide referendum, dealing a further blow to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi just two weeks after his coalition suffered heavy losses in local elections.

Government-backed provisions on ministerial immunity from court cases and plans for water privatisation were also shunned by Italian citizens, whose 57 percent turnout on Sunday and Monday (12, 13 June) marks the first time the country's 50 percent referendum quorum has been reached since 1995.

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With most ballot papers counted, it appeared that almost 96 percent of voters had opted not to follow the government's position. "The will of Italians is clear on all the subjects of this consultation," Berlusconi said conceding defeat. "The government and parliament must now respond fully."

The outcome is seen as a significant success for the anti-nuclear movement in the world's first nationwide vote on the issue following the recent Fukushima accident in Japan.

Italians first rejected nuclear energy in a referendum soon after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, but the moratorium lasted only five years and Berlusconi's centre-right coalition had called for a relaunching of the industry.

A quarter of the Italy's energy was to come from nuclear power by 2020 under a proposed target, but instead, the country now joins Germany and Switzerland in broadly rejecting the controversial energy source following Fukushima disaster.

The result is also the latest sign that support for Italy's flamboyant prime minister is increasingly on the wane, after voters last month rejected Berlusconi's candidate in mayoral elections in his home city of Milan, traditionally an accurate indicator of the Italian political mood.

Dwindling support has given rise to tensions within Berlusconi's Freedom People movement, with members of the regionalist and anti-immigrant Northern League urging their leader, Umberto Bossi, to cut himself free.

Leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, Pierluigi Bersani, said the referendum result showed it was time for Berlusconi to leave.

The above 50-percent turnout came despite government efforts to limit participation, with Italian television largely ignoring the upcoming vote until the final days.

Rejection of water privatisation plans may make it harder for finance minister Giulio Tremonti to rein in Italy's national debt, currently running at 120 percent of GDP, while the question on ministerial attendance at court cases is particularly pertinent to Berlusconi.

Currently facing four separate trials, the prime minster recently agreed to attend court cases after judges stripped him of his immunity.

Since then however, he has missed several hearings, including on Monday when he opted to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instead.

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