Italian institutional referendum, 1946
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|Repubblica o Monarchia?
Republic or Monarchy?
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An institutional referendum (referendum istituzionale, or referendum sulla forma istituzionale dello Stato, in Italian) was held in Italy on 2 June 1946, a key event of Italian contemporary history. Until 1946, Italy was a kingdom ruled by the House of Savoy, kings of Italy since the Risorgimento and previously rulers of Savoy. However, Benito Mussolini, enjoying the support of the reigning monarch, imposed fascism after the 28 October 1922 March on Rome, eventually engaging Italy in World War II alongside Nazi Germany. In 1946, Italy became a republic after the results of a popular referendum. Monarchists had suspicions of fraud, but were never able to prove these. A Constituent Assembly was elected at the same time.
The Italian referendum was intended only to determine whether the head of state should come from a family dynasty or be elected by popular vote. Democracy was not a new concept in Italian politics. The Kingdom of Piedmont had become a constitutional monarchy with the liberalizing reforms of King Charles Albert's famous Albertine Statute in 1848. Suffrage, initially limited to select citizens, was gradually expanded; in 1911, the government of Giovanni Giolitti introduced universal suffrage for male citizens. In this period, the provisions of the Statute were often not observed, however. Instead, the elected Chamber and the Head of Government took major roles. At the beginning of the 20th century, many observers thought that, by comparison to other countries, Italy was developing in the direction of a modern democracy. Essential issues that needed to be resolved included the relationship of the Kingdom with the Roman Catholic Church.
A crisis arose in Italian society as a result of the First World War, social inequalities, and the consequent tension between Marxist and other left-wing parties on one side and conservative liberals on the other. This crisis led to the advent of Fascism, which destroyed freedoms and civil rights and established a dictatorship, breaking the continuity of the still fragile new parliamentary tradition. The support of the ruling class and especially the monarchy was crucial for the seizure of power by Benito Mussolini. After Mussolini's March on Rome, King Victor Emmanuel III refused to sign a decree to declare a state of siege and instead asked Mussolini to form a new government. The King's decision was within his powers under the Italian constitution, but contrary to the parliamentary practices of the Italian liberal state, as the Fascist Party had only a small minority of the parliamentary deputies.
After the invasion of Italy by Allied forces in 1943, Mussolini's Grand Fascist Council, with the co-operation of the King, overthrew Mussolini and established a new government headed by Marshal Pietro Badoglio. However, Germany, worried by the new government's intention to negotiate a separate peace with the Allies, invaded and occupied Northern Italy. In the Gran Sasso raid, or Operation Oak, German paratroopers rescued Mussolini from the hilltop hotel in which he had been imprisoned by the new government. Under pressure from Hitler, Mussolini then established a puppet state, the Italian Social Republic to administer the German-occupied territory, leading to Italy being split in two, each with its own government. In the north, Mussolini declared that the monarchy had been overthrown and began to establish a new republican state, with himself as Duce, but for practical purposes under the control of Karl Wolff and Rudolf Rahn. The Italian Social Republic had its seat of government in the town of Salò, so is commonly known as the Republic of Salo.
Southern Italy, meanwhile, remained nominally under the control of the new legitimist government of Badoglio, continuing to operate as the Kingdom of Italy. Rome descended into chaos, as fighting erupted between Mussolini loyalists and supporters of the new government, as well as leftist opponents of fascism who emerged from hiding. The King and the Badoglio government left Rome to seek the protection of the Allied forces that occupied the South. With half of the Italian peninsula occupied by the Germans and the rest by the Allies, a return to civil rights was suspended due to the complete disorder in the country. The pre-Fascist-era parties had been formally disbanded, and so far as they still existed their activity was clandestine and limited, with no form of contact with most of the population. Consequently, the future relationships between these parties, and the balance of power, was left to be decided at a later, quieter time. However, some political forces organized the Italian Resistance, which enjoyed strong popular support, but without an election, which could not be held because of the chaotic situation, it was impossible to determine how many people that represented. Almost all of the Resistance was anti-monarchist. Nevertheless, a temporary alliance between them and the Badoglio government was created by the decision of Joseph Stalin and Palmiro Togliatti, secretary of the Italian Communist Party, to postpone the problem of the state organisation and focus all efforts on the fight against Hitler's puppet state in the North.
At the end of the war, Italy was a severely damaged country, with innumerable victims, a destroyed economy, and a desperate general condition. The defeat left the country deprived of the Empire it had fought for in the past two decades and also occupied by foreign soldiers. For some years after 1945, internal, politically motivated fighting continued.
The emergence of political forces to replace fascism could not occur until the internal conflict ended and elections could be held. After fighting had died down, a few months were needed before attention could be given to institutional matters. The first important question regarded the royal family, blamed by many for the fascist regime, the war, and the defeat.
Republican traditions in Italy traditionally hark back to the Roman Republic and the Medieval Communes, in which a wide spectrum of people took part in the business of government, but remained largely theoretical, as in the conclusion of Machiavelli's Il Principe. The struggle for a Republican Italy independent of foreign powers had been started by Giuseppe Mazzini in the 19th century. The movement Giustizia e Libertà, which continued the traditional Mazzinian ideology, was the second important force during the resistance. It posed the question of the form of the state as a fundamental precondition to developing any further agreements with the other parties. Giustizia e Libertà joined the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale (National Liberation Committee, CLN). The various competing political factions agreed that a popular referendum would be held to determine the future choice of Head of State.
As the Allies advanced down the peninsula, it became apparent that Victor Emmanuel III was too compromised by his earlier support of Mussolini to have any further role. Accordingly, in April 1944, he turned over most of his powers to Crown Prince Umberto. When Rome was liberated on 4 June, Victor Emmanuel relinquished his remaining powers to Umberto and named him Lieutenant General of the Realm, making him the de facto regent.
However, Victor Emmanuel retained the title of king until his abdication in May 1946. Umberto then formally ascended the throne as Umberto II. It has been said[who?] that the abdication had been imposed by opponents, but the royal house, too, had an interest in the manoeuvre. It was convenient for the House of Savoy, in fact, to have a popular king "on stage" at that crucial moment. Umberto was more acceptable to the Italian people: he and his wife Maria José were young, elegant and cultivated, and presented a stark contrast to the old, rough Victor Emmanuel who was unknown for any particular activity, apart from his collection of coins (114,000 items). Umberto was relatively well received by the people from the moment of his crowning, even if his wife (a foreigner) was kept at some distance. He was commonly called Il Re di Maggio (the King of May), with reference to his brief rule of forty days.
Umberto's few acts were however generally seen, post facto, as correct and responsible. He repeatedly calmed the population by declaring that he would accept the election results. He did, in the event, accept the results with magnanimity: in his final farewell speech he invited Italians to loyally serve as patriots, absolving them from their loyalty to the crown.
Maria José's internal and international relationships (she had had contacts with leftist parties and former enemies since the beginning of the war) were supposed to have been of some potential importance at the right moment. But she was not able to produce the expected consensus around the Quirinal. Respected as the wife of an esteemed man, she was in fact the symbol of the uncertain, irresolute, ambiguous tendency of the Savoy dynasty to be open to any possibly safe compromise.
A decree by Umberto II, issued as a General Lieutenant of the government (decreto legge luogotenenziale 25 giugno 1944, n. 151) during Ivanoe Bonomi’s time in office as Prime Minister, prescribed that a Constitutional Assembly would be organized after the war to draft a constitution and to choose an institutional form for the state.
The institutional debate was accelerated in the spring of 1946.
- On 1 March, the government of Alcide De Gasperi gave its approval for the definitive scope of the referendum to be Republic versus Monarchy.
- On 12 March, the government called together the electors to meet on 2 June, for the referendum and the election of the Constituent Assembly.
- On 18 March, the King issued the decrees together with a letter in which he anticipated his intention of abdicating in favour of his son Umberto II (who was named lieutenant general); the date for abdication being the anniversary of the Allied forces’ entry into Rome.
- On 25 April, at the congress of Democrazia Cristiana, Attilio Piccioni revealed that, after an internal investigation, the opinion of the members of the party was 60% in favour of the republic, 17% in favour of the monarchy, and 23% undecided.
- On 9 May, Victor Emanuele III abdicated, left Italy from Naples by ship, after a long meeting with Umberto.
- On 10 May, early in the morning, Umberto II made his first public announcement as king. That afternoon, the government censured Admiral Raffaele de Courten, who had set aside a battle cruiser for Vittorio Emanuele's exile that was supposed to be used to bring home Italian prisoners. It was also decided that the traditional institutional formula by which any decree or sentence was released in the name of "N, King of Italy, by God's grace and the nation's will", would be reduced to the simpler "N, King of Italy". Taking effect on the day Umberto became king, this act did not present a warm welcome for the new king, especially since the government had not given him advance notice of its intention. Nevertheless, the king's main powers were "frozen" until the referendum.
The political campaign for the referendum was framed by incidents, especially in northern Italy, where monarchists were attacked by both republicans and post-fascists of the Italian Social Republic. Following a second decree (decreto legge luogotenenziale 16 marzo 1946, n. 98), during the government of De Gasperi, a referendum was held on 2 June and 3 June 1946 (2 June later was named as a national holiday). The question was as simple as possible: Republic or Monarchy. South Tyrol and the areas of Trieste and Gorizia didn't take part in the referendum.
Following Italian law, the results were checked by the Corte di Cassazione (the highest judicial Court at that time), as expected. A problem arose when the Court, itself divided between monarchists and republicans, provisionally declared a republican victory on 10 June, but postponing the final result to 18 June. To avoid huge dangers of political riots due to the Court's delay, the government itself illegally and without any constitutional authority declared a republic and appointed De Gasperi as the provisional Head of State on 13 June.
|Source: Nohlen & Stöver|
The table of results shows the referendum results in the different regions of Italy. The peninsula was divided, the North for the republic (with 66.2% of the votes), the South for the monarchy (with 63.8%). For example, Lombardy produced far more votes in majority for a republic whereas, Campania produced a larger majority for the status quo.
- Republican regions and percentage of votes for the republic
- Monarchist regions and percentage of votes for the republic
The new republican constitution was released together with a group of minor dispositions, the 13th of which prescribed that the male members of the House of Savoy must stay in perpetual exile. This disposition was abolished in October 2002, and Vittorio Emanuele, Umberto II's son, entered Italy with his family in the following December, for a short formal visit to the Pope. However, in a deal with the government, he renounced all claims to the defunct throne. Even without this to consider, Article 139 of the new constitution explicitly states that the republican form of government cannot be changed by constitutional amendment, thus requiring the adoption of a new constitution to restore the monarchy.
- Nohlen, D & Stöver, P (2010) Elections in Europe: A data handbook, p1047 ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7