Rome (dpa) - The Italian government was expected Monday to announce that a referendum on major constitutional reforms, whose outcome will be closely watched in Europe, is going to take place in late November or early December.
Pundits expect the vote on November 27 or on December 4. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who was due to chair a cabinet meeting on the issue, confirmed in a TV interview last week that the referendum was likely to happen around those dates.
The proposed package is the biggest shake-up of Italy's 70-year republican set-up. It slashes the powers of the Senate and regional bodies, with the stated aim of giving the country stronger and more efficient governance.
Critics say that, coupled with a law that grants election winners a safe majority in parliament, the constitutional reform unduly strengthens the executive and undermines democratic checks and balances.
Renzi has offered to amend the election law, not yet verified by the Constitutional Court, but changes are unlikely to happen quickly. Opponents also claim the reform is badly written and will complicate, rather than simplify, the legislative process.
All opposition groups and a minority of the ruling Democratic Party are against the Renzi-sponsored package. The premier said months ago he would resign if the reforms are rejected, but as opinion polls turned against him, he backtracked.
A victory of the 'no' camp is nevertheless expected to trigger a government crisis and boost the chances that the next general election, due in 2017-18, will hand a victory to Italy's populist and eurosceptic opposition party, the Five Star Movement.