Berlusconi's Nuclear Power Plans Get Defeated by Citizens

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (not smiling today)

One of the big news stories of the day is a bright one for those concerned about nuclear power. In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi’s nuclear power plans got crushed by a public referendum when well over 90% of voters voted “Heck No!” (but yeah, not in those words).

I first saw the news on Greenpeace. Here’s the intro of Greenpeace blogger Pat C:

Berlusconi’s Italy is a strange place and amidst the madness today comes a little no nukes sanity. The people were asked and the people have spoken: Italy should have a nuclear power free future. This is great news and I cannot help singing the old Patty Smith’s song: this is a great day and it’s time to celebrate.

In the past weekend Italians’ were called to cast their vote on four referendums, one of which was about the production of nuclear energy in Italy. The answer has come loud and clear: almost 57%  Italians went to vote and the vast majority of them, almost 95%, have chosen for a future free of nuclear energy.

Berlusconi Used Every Tactic Possible to Defeat the Referendum

I’ve also seen the news on the Guardian and around the internet now. The Guardian notes some rather interesting and underhanded tactics Berlusconi took to try to defeat the referendum:

The result represented an overwhelming setback for the prime minister, who had tried to thwart the outcome by discouraging Italians from taking part. The referendum needed a turnout of at least 50% to be binding. Interior ministry figures projections indicated that more than 57% of the electorate had taken part.

Another Guardian reporter covered the tactics in more detail:

The Italian government tried everything possible to delay, compromise and negate the possibility of Italian people expressing dissent. It wasted €300m (£265m) preventing a high turnout at the ballot for a referendum on three crucial issues. It even passed a decree in the hope of nullifying one of the referendum’s counts. In addition, it attempted to prevent adequate television coverage of the ballot. Yet the referendum held on 12-13 June succeeded. The result constitutes another huge setback for Silvio Berlusconi’s government….

In fact, Berlusconi tried to make it difficult for the vote to reach the target it needed – according to article 75 of the constitution, this needs to be more than 50% – or precisely 25,209,345 million votes. In gloomy times for the Italian economy, Berlusconi’s government wasted €300m on another ballot immediately after the local elections instead of combining the two. Furthermore, once the date of the ballot was set, the government tried to invalidate one of the referendum’s four counts: the so-called omnibus decree placed a last-minute moratorium on the government policy that sought to establish nuclear plants in a notoriously anti-nuclear country. As Berlusconi himself has since explained, the construction of nuclear plants is still a priority for the government. In the words of Berlusconi, the omnibus decree was a “wise decision” to prevent “people voting to ban nuclear plants in Italy and therefore thwarting the government’s nuclear agenda for many years to come”. Yet, the highest court in Italy subsequently decided that the referendum on nuclear plants should go ahead despite the changes proposed by the decree.

Furthermore, the government played its final card in making an appeal to the constitutional court just a few days before the consultation. On 7 June, the constitutional court once again reaffirmed the legitimacy of the referendum in its new post-Omnibus decree framework. If this verdict is a victory for the Italian people, there are still about 3 million Italians who risk seeing their votes nullified by the government’s strategies. Italians living abroad have been asked to vote on a count that has not been updated post-omnibus decree, precisely because of the government’s subsequent delaying tactics. The decision on the validity of the vote abroad will come on Thursday. Still, the strong turnout at the referendumis a great consolation as the 50% target has been achieved at any rate.

In addition, the government propaganda machine has been widely employed to compromise the referendum. RAI – supposedly the Italian BBC – failed to inform the Italian public about the referendum. So deficient has been its referendum coverage that Agcom – the Italian Ofcom – repeatedly called for RAI to increase its coverage in order to better inform the public about the consultation. On the positive side, social media has, for the first time, been used to update people on the vote. Facebook, Twitter and blogs have been used to reach Italian people outside the zone of Berlusconi’s televisual control.

Nuclear Energy, Water Privatization: Issues the Public Clearly Cared About

Interestingly, this was the first time in 16 years that a quorom came out to vote on a referendum in Italy, and it actually happened for this one and 3 more!

Official projections showed more than 95% of voters rejecting water privatisation and a law allowing Berlusconi and other ministers to cite government business as a reason for delaying trials in which they were defendants.

Prime Minister Berlusconi seems to be in a bit out of favor at the moment and even recently lost in a local runoff election for Mayor of Milan, his home city.

Getting behind nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster (or in the midst of it, since it is still ongoing) while other European countries like Germany and Switzerland decided to throw in the towel on nuclear probably wasn’t the smartest move.

Before the polls even closed, Berlusconi noted, “”We shall probably have to say goodbye to nuclear.”

“He told a press conference in Rome that his government would now throw all its energy into developing renewable sources, the Guardian reports.

The outcome was a huge success for the anti-nuclear movement in the world’s first nationwide vote on the issue since Japan’s Fukushima disaster. The ballot was also the latest, and most persuasive, evidence that a majority of Italians have turned against their flamboyant prime minister.

The government, which appealed to the courts for the vote to be scrapped, did all it could to keep turnout low. Berlusconi boycotted the vote and Italian television, largely under his sway, almost ignored the approaching ballots until the final days of a poorly funded, low-profile campaign.

What’s one of the lessons here? I think it’s that backing nuclear power is political suicide these days (at least, in many countries of the world).

Related Stories:

  1. Germany Abandons Nuclear Power
  2. Switzerland Ditches Nuclear Power
  3. Europe to Stress Test Nuclear Power Stations
  4. Nuclear Reactor Explosions & Meltdowns in Japan; Nuclear Energy Politics (Top News)
  5. Germany Nuclear Energy to be Gone by 2022

Photo via rogimmi

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