Despite efforts from the Italian government to delay the referendum, the results of the vote that was held on 12-13 June constituted yet another major setback for Silvio Berlusconi's regime , proving that the Italian people are more than fed up with their leader.
In the last two days, Italians were called to the ballot box to give their verdict on three crucial government policies.
They were first asked to cast their vote on the famous legitimate impediment, which is the law that permitted Berlusconi to acquire automatic immunity from trial proceedings. As the constitutional court had already partially revoked the law, the public opinion was important since it would balance the outcome either on the side of the judicial system or on the side of Berlusconi. For years, the two camps have been at loggerheads, with the Italian leader being repeatedly criticised for its disrespect of the rule of law.
Second on the list was another controversial reform also brought in by the Berlusconi government, and which this time concerned water privatisation.
Finally, Italians were also presented with the opportunity to vote against Berlusconi's energy policy, which proposed the construction of nuclear plants Italy, and has been widely criticised, especially following the Fukushima incident, as Italy is in high-risk seismic country.
As the results of the referendum surfaced, it became clear that the Italian people had finally decided to say no to Berlusconi and his government as they firmly stood against the current regime' s most controversial policies. They said no to an undemocratic law that placed the prime minister above the law and prevented him from ever coming to trial. They said no to water privatisation and, again, no to nuclear energy.
The result is very important as it demonstrate that the Italian political landscape is ready for a change.
Already, in May, during the local elections, Milan, Berlusconi's home city had ousted his party's candidate for mayor and the coalition ended up losing out important cities such as Milan, Naples, Trieste, Cagliari and Novara, while Berlusconi's loyal ally, the Northern League, also suffered election losses in its own northern heartland.
The referendum result is now assured to further weaken the alliance between Berlusconi's party and the Northern League. Noticing the government was rapidly falling out of favour from the public, the League has already taken steps to try and distance itself from the government's policies both on the international and domestic scene as it disagrees on issues such as the Libya conflict or fiscal reforms.
The referendum's results however should not have come as a surprise as popular discontent in Italy had increased in the last years.
During the weeks preceding the vote, Berlusconi and his government have been criticised and accused to try and abort the referendum. The government was recently accused of voluntarily wasting € 300m by insisting on the need for another ballot immediately after the local elections instead of combining the two. Furthermore, soon after the date for referendum was set, the government passed a law, also called the omnibus decree, which aimed at permanently suspending the development of nuclear power. Anti-nuclear power activists however insisted that this was just an attempt by the regime to try and take out the nuclear issue from the referendum as the Italian public is known to be anti-nuclear power.
The accusations grew even stronger after the leader, admitting that the construction of nuclear plants was still very much a priority for the government, described the decree as a "wise decision" that would help prevent "people voting to ban nuclear plants in Italy and therefore thwarting the government's nuclear agenda for many years to come".
Following the decree, the highest court in Italy had to get involved and decided that the referendum on nuclear plants should go ahead despite the changes proposed by the government.
Also as it became more and more evident that the Berlusconi government was overtly against the referendum, the constitutional court, on 7 June, was forced to once again reaffirm the legitimacy of the referendum.
In addition, RAI, the biggest television company in Italy, apparently failed to inform the Italian public about the referendum and Agcom, the Italian equivalent of Ofcom, was forced to intervene and "repeatedly called for RAI to increase its coverage in order to better inform the public about the consultation."
Despite several allegations of the government trying to sabotage the ballot, the turn out at the referendum was very large as the 50% target has been achieved.
Meanwhile, showing that nothing could dampen his mood, after all, if years of accusations of corruption, and more recently a high profile sex scandal that led to him being put a trial did not succeed, what were the chance of the people standing in block against him actually affecting him, Berlusconi was yesterday still in a humorous mood as met his Israeli counter-part.
While the two leaders held a press conference in Rome yesterday, and as the rather humiliating referendum results came in, the Italian leader candidly turned his back to the audience for a second and pointed to the painting behind them while saying : 'That's a bunga bunga from 1811.'
The phrase, which is said to refer to a crude after-dinner sex game, held at the parties that Berlusconi hosted at his villa at Arcore near Milan, appeared put The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an awkward position as he smiled uncomfortably before quickly moving the press conference onwards.
Berlusconi's desperate attempt to put up a strong front will not dupe the public as instead of emphasising his nonchalant attitude he should start appreciating that his people now see him as more of an embarrassment than anything else.