SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Italians go to the polls tomorrow to vote on a referendum on constitutional amendments. As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, opposition parties have turned the ballot into a referendum on the government itself.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Italians will be asked to vote yes or no to constitutional changes aimed at bringing the Italian political system more in line with the European norm. The changes involve sharply reducing the powers of one of the chambers of Parliament, the Senate and of local regions and shifting those powers to the executive. A rally in favor of the amendments is held in a Roman theater. Retired schoolteacher Leandra Millefiorini says she's going to vote yes.
LEANDRA MILLEFIORINI: Because I think that Italy needs to change. We all need to change. We must be more European.
POGGIOLI: However, she's worried about the outcome.
MILLEFIORINI: Italian people is conservative, conservative. I hope, I hope, but...
POGGIOLI: You're not optimistic.
POGGIOLI: In fact, the latest polls show the no vote is ahead by some five points. Although 15 percent of Italians are still undecided.
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POGGIOLI: Several thousand supporters of the opposition Five Star Movement march in Rome in favor of a no vote. At the end, movement leader and stand-up comedian Beppe Grillo, who has a penchant for histrionics, addresses the crowd.
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BEPPE GRILLO: (Through interpreter) You must vote no. But vote with your guts, not with your brain. Use your instincts, trust your gut, and then vote no.
POGGIOLI: The Italian constitution was written after World War II and the defeat of the fascist dictatorship. It was purposefully designed to create a weak government and a powerful parliament, so as to prevent the rise of another Mussolini. Domenico Fracchiolla wants it to stay that way. A political science professor at Rome's Luiss University, he says the constitution was drafted by representatives of the entire political spectrum.
DOMENICO FRACCHIOLLA: By people that were shooting each other just a few weeks before, so it's written in blood.
POGGIOLI: However, Roberto D’Alimonte, who also teaches political science at Luiss University, says after 70 years, it's time for change.
ROBERTO D’ALIMONTE: Italy is different. The world is different. The challenges are different. And we need a pattern of government where power is a little more concentrated from too much fragmentation of power to a little less fragmentation of power.
POGGIOLI: Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who, at 41, is Italy's youngest government leader and one of its most reform-minded, has been campaigning hard for the amendments.
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PRIME MINISTER MATTEO RENZI: (Through interpreter) This is the chance for Italians. If they want change, they'll vote yes. If they don't want change, they'll vote no - no hard feelings. But if the no vote wins, Italy will still have the biggest, most costly and slowest Parliament in Europe.
POGGIOLI: Renzi has staked his political future on the referendum, vowing to step down if the no votes win. That prospect rallied opposition parties, a motley crew that includes the anti-European Northern League on the right and, on the left, some members of Renzi's own Democratic Party who wouldn't mind seeing his fall from office. But such an outcome could unnerve financial markets and Italy's E.U. partners. They're beginning to wonder whether a referendum aimed at ensuring greater political stability may, in the end, trigger political chaos. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
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