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December 2, 2016

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Italian Referendum to Decide PM Renzi’s Fate

Italians launched their final day of campaigning before a Sunday plebiscite that is being hailed as the latest referendum on rising populism across the globe. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has vowed to resign (Reuters) if voters reject the referendum, which would overhaul the country's legislature in a move critics say will give too much power to the prime minister. The vote is being closely watched by financial markets (FT) amid concerns that a resignation by Renzi could imperil Italian banks’ efforts to raise capital in a stagnant economy. Renzi's exit could be a political opening for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (WSJ), which has proposed a referendum on Italy's EU membership and a renegotiation of the country's debt.


"Mr. Renzi’s proposed reform takes aim at Italy’s unwieldy legislature, which counts more than 900 members in a system with strong checks and balances established in the wake of fascism. The goal, he says, is to make it easier to pass laws, including those meant to strengthen Italy’s sclerotic economy. The overhaul would cut the size of the Italian Senate to 100 from 315 members and strip it of its power to hold votes of confidence on new governments, leaving that responsibility entirely to the lower house. Mr. Renzi says that change would make for more durable governments in a country that has seen more than 60 since World War II," Deborah Ball writes for the Wall Street Journal.

"Prime Minister Renzi has pursued these reforms since coming to office in 2014, and this referendum was called after parliament failed to pass the changes by a two-third majority earlier this year. He argues that a 'yes' vote will provide critical political stability, streamline decision-making, and make it easier to pass essential structural reforms. However, following the Brexit vote and ahead of upcoming elections in 2017 in France and Germany, where anti-establishment parties have been gaining steam, it hardly seems like a propitious time for another European referendum that gives vent to populist, anti-government sentiments," says CFR's Robert Kahn.

"Renzi, after all, isn’t necessarily a typical establishment figure; as the 39-year-old mayor of Florence, he was virtually unknown on the national stage when he rose to power in 2014. Initially, he was nicknamed the ‘rottamatore’ or destroyer, of his party’s expected conventions, attracting many young Italians with his center-left vision of government that wiped out inefficiencies and corruption to support startups and youth employment. Three months after he was voted into power by his party, Italians showed their approval during an European Union parliamentary election, giving a record 40.8 percent of seats to his Democratic Party. But the siren call of change coming from true outsiders may prove irresistible this year," Kavitha Surana writes for Foreign Policy.

Podcast: ‘The President’s Inbox’

Podcast: ‘The President’s Inbox’

In the latest episode of The President's Inbox, CFR's James M. Lindsay, Robert McMahon, and Carla Anne Robbins examine President-Elect Donald Trump's defense priorities. Listen and subscribe.



Tens of Thousands Protest Jakarta Governor

Tens of thousands of Muslim protesters staged a prayer rally (Jakarta Post) in Jakarta over alleged blasphemy by Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. Police arrested ten people, accusing them of planning to use the protest to incite chaos and overthrow the government (AP).

SOUTH KOREA: Opposition lawmakers scheduled a vote on the impeachment (Korea Times) of President Park Geun-hye for December 9.

CFR's Scott A. Snyder discusses Korea's leadership crisis amid an influence-peddling scandal in this blog post. 


Uzbek Presidential Election First in Twenty-Five Years

Uzbeks will vote on Sunday for a new leader (Guardian) following the death of dictator Islam Karimov, who had ruled since 1991. Karimov's former prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev is expected to win, though all three of his opponents are also regime loyalists.


U.S. Coalition Admits Civilian Deaths in Syria

The U.S.-led coalition fighting the self-proclaimed Islamic State admitted that at least twenty-four civilians were killed in a July airstrike (BBC) in Manbij. The coalition was supporting Kurdish forces advancing on the city.

IRAN: Foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said the U.S. Congress’s ten-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act (Reuters) violated the terms of a 2015 deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program. U.S. lawmakers say the act makes it easier to re-impose sanctions should Iran violate the agreement.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif discusses regional politics and the country's relationship with the United States at this CFR event.


Ethiopia Arrests Prominent Opposition Politician

Police arrested Merera Gudina, an opposition politician who protested (WaPo) Ethiopia's declaration of a state of emergency following unrest in its Oromia region, shortly after he returned from speaking at the European Parliament. The government accused him of communicating with "banned terrorist organizations."

Zara Riaz discusses escalating violence in Ethiopia’s Oromia region in this CFR guest blog post.

SUDAN: The National Intelligence and Security Service confiscated (Sudan Tribune) copies of major newspapers, which were reporting on anti-government protests, for the fourth consecutive day.


France’s Hollande Will Not Seek Reelection

President Francois Hollande announced that he would not seek (FT) a second term in office, saying that he is "conscious of the risks" his candidacy would create for the country’s Socialist majority. Hollande's approval rating sank to a record-low four percent in October.


Trump Announces Mattis for Defense Post

U.S. President-Elect Donald J. Trump told a rally in Cincinnati that retired Marine General James N. Mattis would be his pick for secretary of defense (WaPo). Mattis, known for strong stances on foreign adversaries, said in April that the Iranian government is "the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East."

HAITI: The United Nations admitted in a new report that its peacekeepers were "most likely" (Guardian) the source of a cholera outbreak in Haiti that killed up to thirty thousand people.


Four Major Cities Announce Diesel Ban

The mayors of Paris, Mexico City, Athens, and Madrid announced at a meeting in Mexico that they will ban the use of diesel-powered vehicles (BBC) by the middle of the next decade. The World Health Organization has estimated that three million deaths each year are linked to outdoor air pollution.