Italy election, Virginia Raggi, 5-Star Movement - M5S.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MASSIMO PERCOSSI

Italy's constitutional reform, due for a referendum on December 4, is a "fraud" that will turn the country into an autocracy similar to Hungary, the opposition Five Star Movement (M5S) said Monday.

The chief sponsor of the package, which limits the powers of the upper chamber of parliament, is Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. He says it will make Italy more stable, while critics like the M5S fear that it will undermine democratic checks and balances.

"What we want to say to Italian citizens is that this is a fraud," Luigi Di Maio, who is seen as the most likely prime ministerial candidate for the M5S in the next general elections, said at a press conference at the foreign press association in Rome.

Disputing claims that the reform will simplify and accelerate the work of parliament and reduce politicians' perks, Di Maio dismissed it as a "smokescreen used by [...] old political parties to preserve" their place in power.

He called on Renzi to make good on a pledge to quit politics if voters reject what he proposes. The premier has in recent months backtracked on the issue, after opinion polls on the referendum turned against his preferred 'yes' outcome.

"Italian citizens will be asking him to keep his promise to resign, in case the 'no' wins," Di Maio said, adding that his party would refuse to enter into a new coalition government and would call for elections "as soon as possible."

Coupled with a new electoral law already on the statute books, the constitutional changes grant a safe parliamentary majority to any single party that wins at least 40 per cent of the votes, or failing that, comes first in a second-round ballot.

The M5S, along with all other opposition forces, rejects the set up, arguing that allowing the country to be governed by a party with far less than 50-per-cent nationwide support would be inherently undemocratic.

Fabio Massimo Castaldo, a M5S member of the European Parliament, said only Hungary, a country with a controversial right-wing government whose institutional reforms have raised rule-of-law concerns in Europe, has similar provisions.

"The facts show that that we are going exactly in that direction," he said.

Another key aspect of the reform is the abolition of a requirement for all laws to be approved by both houses of parliament. The lower assembly, or Chamber of Deputies, is given the lead on most matters, including confidence votes on the government and the national budget.

But another M5S deputy, Danilo Toninelli, pointed out that since the Senate would retain veto powers on some matters, there would be "about 10," rather than just one, ways of drafting laws, multiplying the risks of legislative gridlock.

"There will be total institutional blockage," he warned.

According to an Ixe poll published Monday, 37 per cent of voters would vote for the reform, 37 per cent would vote against, and 26 per cent are undecided. In early September opinion was split 42-35 per cent in favour of the package.

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