Italian voters dealt Premier Matteo Renzi a stinging defeat on his reforms referendum, triggering his resignation announcement and galvanizing the populist, opposition 5-Star Movement's determination to gain national power soon. The outcome also energized the anti-immigrant Northern League party, an ally of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, a candidate in France's presidential race. The blow to Renzi also delivered a rebuke to Italy's industrialists, banks, and other establishment institutions, which had staunchly backed the referendum, the AP reports. The political upset, which could spook investors, comes just as the government had made some inroads in cutting the staggering rate of youth employment, and while Italy's banks have urgent need for recapitalization.
The Movement, led by anti-euro comic Beppe Grillo, spearheaded the No camp on the constitutional reforms, a package aimed at updating Italy's post-war Constitution that Renzi had depicted as vital to modernizing Italy and reviving its economy. Characteristically confident—detractors say arrogant—Renzi, 41, and Italy's youngest premier, had bet his political future on a Yes vote win, and campaigned hard for a victory in recent weeks. "I lost and the post that gets eliminated is mine," Renzi said early Monday about an hour after the polls closed. Renzi is widely expected to be asked to stay on at least until a budget bill can be passed later this month. Elections are due in spring 2018, but with Renzi's stepping down, they will likely be held sometime next year. (Read more Matteo Renzi stories.)