Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi offered his resignation around 00.30am (11.30pm GMT), an hour-and-a-half after the polling stations closed and the first exit polls projected a colossal defeat for him in
the constitutional referendum on 4 December.
The preference for the vote rejecting the reform proposals in the referendum reached 59.11% against 40.89% backing Matteo Renzi's side. From the North to the South of the country, the No vote triumphed with the backing of almost 20 million voters.
The high voting turnout, at 65.47%, and the clarity of the result leaves Renzi with nowhere to go but the Quirinal, the hill in Rome where the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella resides, and who now will
have to decide on who will receive the mandate to form a new government.
Struggling to fight back tears, Renzi spoke for about 10 minutes from the Grazioli palace, the prime minister's residence, in a room cramped with journalists. In his speech, he offered his resignation and reflected on the referendum result and his 1,017 days in power (as of today, 5 December), which make his government the fourth-longest lasting in the 63 governments that have ruled Italy since the Second World War.
Read Matteo Renzi's resignation speech in full
Today the Italian people have spoken, they have spoken unequivocally. They have chosen in a clear-cut manner and I think this was a great celebration for democracy. The voting turnout was higher than anyone expected. It was a celebration that took place in a context marred by some controversies during the electoral campaign, but in which many citizens have gotten closer to the Constitution, the rules of the game, and I think this is very good, important, and significant.
I am proud of the opportunity that the parliament, under initiative of the government, has given the citizens to express themselves on the reforms' merit. Viva l'Italia [an Italian expression of celebration literally meaning "Long live Italy", or "Hooray for Italy"], that does not stand by the window but chooses. Viva l'Italia that participates and decides. Viva l'Italia that believes in politics.
The No vote won in a clear way, and to the leaders of the No front go all my congratulations and my wishes to work in the interest of the country, of Italy and of Italians. This vote gives the leaders of the No front honours and obligations as well as the great responsibility of starting from the proposal, I believe first of all from the proposal of the rules, for the voting law. It is up to those who won, in fact, to be the first to put forward serious, concrete, and credible proposals.
To the friends on the Yes front, who have shared the dream of this reform, an emotional electoral campaign, I would like to give a strong, affectionate hug, one by one. We tried, we gave Italians a simple and clear chance for change. But we did not make it, we could not convince a majority of our citizens; we have received millions of votes, but while these millions of votes are impressive, they are not enough. We wanted to win, not simply take part, and so I assume all responsibilities for the defeat and I tell the friends on the Yes front that I lost, not them.
Those who fight for an idea cannot lose. You had a wonderful idea, particularly in this season of European politics' life. You wanted to bring citizens closer to public life, to fight populism, to simplify the system and bring citizens and businesses closer. You took the election campaign from house to house, out of your own pocket, without anything to ask but everything to give. That's why you did not lose. Tonight go to bed, or tomorrow, go to work feeling proud of your effort, passion and ideas. Of course, there is anger, disappointment, bitterness and sadness, but I would like you to feel proud of yourselves. Doing politics against someone is very easy, doing politics for something is harder, but nicer. Be proud of this. Never stop thinking that you do politics thinking of doing politics for your children and not for the liking of elite groups.
The day will come in which you will go back to celebrate a victory and that day you will remember tonight's tears. You can lose a referendum, but you cannot lose your good mood. You can lose a battle but not the knowledge that this is the world's most beautiful country and that flag represents the ideals of civilisation, education and beauty that makes us great and proud of our culture.
Instead, I lost.
In Italian politics no one ever loses, they do not win but no one ever loses. After every election everything stays the same. I am different. I lost and I say it loudly, even if I get a lump in my throat. Because I am not a robot. I could not lead you to victory. Please believe me when I say I really did everything I thought one could do at this stage.
I don't believe politics is the unacceptably high number of politicians we have in Italy. I do not believe you can keep this system in which the self-congratulation of politics is criticised for decades from all sides and then at the right moment it does not change. But I believe in democracy and this is why, when one loses, one does not ignore it, whistling and leaving, hoping everything will soon change overnight.
I believe in Italy and this is why I believe we need to change it. In the thousand days and thousand nights spent in this palace I saw extraordinary possibilities, unique in the world. But to realise these possibilities, the only chance we have is to spring to action, not float, is to believe in the future, not to get by.
Today's Italian democracy relies on a parliamentary system. When we asked for a confidence vote we asked to simplify the system, eliminate the two-house system, lower the cost of politics, increase the spaces for direct democracy. This reform is the one we brought to vote. We were not convincing, I am sorry, but we leave without regrets, because if democracy wins and the No vote wins, then it is also true we fought the good fight with passion.
As it was evident and expected from the first day, my government's term ends here. I believe that to change this political system in which the leaders are always the same and we exchange roles but not the country, you cannot pretend that everyone sticks to their own habits even more than their own seats.
I wanted to eliminate the too many seats of politics: the Senate, the provinces, the National Council for Economy and Work. I did not make it and the seat that will be eliminated is mine. Tomorrow afternoon [5 December] I will gather the cabinet, I will thank my colleagues for the extraordinary adventure, a strong cohesive and compact team, and I will go to the Quirinale where I will offer my resignations to the president of the Republic. The whole country knows it can rely on an authoritative and reliable guide such as that of President Sergio Mattarella.
Over the next few days, the government will be working to complete the legislative process of the good law of financial stability, which needs to be approved by the Senate, and to ensure the greatest efforts to the territories hit by the earthquake. We leave to those who will take up our place the precious project of Casa Italia.
As you know, I come from the world of associationism, from the Scout movement, and the founder of Scouting, Baden-Powell, said you have to leave the place better than how you found it. We leave the helm of Italy with a country that went from -2% to +1% of GDP growth, that has 600,000 more people in employment, with a law that on the labour market, that was expected for years, with an export that grows and a declining deficit.
We leave the helm of the country with an Italy that finally has a law on the third sector, on the time after us, on international cooperation, on road safety, on blank resignation letters, on autism, on civil unions. A law against food waste, against the gangmaster system, against environmental crimes. These are laws with a soul, that we talked about less but I care about more.
Finally, we leave Italy with a 2017 in which we will be main players in Europe in March in Rome for the 60-year-anniversary of the Union. We will be main players in May in Taormina for the G7. We will be main players with the presidency of the UN Security Council in November. Winning the logistical challenges of Expo and the Jubilee is not to the government's merit but that of an extraordinary professional structure to which goes my renewed gratitude, particularly to the police forces and the military of this country that I have learnt to know for their dedication and extraordinary professionality to the flag and to the country. Thank you, truly.
In this room, finally, I will wait to welcome with institutional friendship and with a big smile and hug my successor, whomever he will be. I will hand him the bell symbolising the helm of government and a long report of things that were done and still need doing.
Thank you Agnese for bearing the burden of these 1,000 days and thank you for how you marvellously represented our country. Thank you to my children. And thank you all too, even if thanking journalists in the end is almost impossible. These 1,000 days flew by, for me it's now time to go back on my path, but I ask you that, in the post-truth era, in the era when many hide that which is the reality of the facts, to be loyal and worthy interpreters of your important mission and for your secular vocation.
Viva l'Italia, good luck to all of us.