Birth of the Italian Republic

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The Italian constitutional referendum which officially took place on June 2, 1946, is a key event of Italian contemporary history. Until 1946, Italy was a monarchy 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 monarchy, imposed fascism after the October 28, 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 advanced suspicions of fraud that were never proved. A Constituent Assembly was elected at the same time.

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Before the referendum

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 elite and especially the monarchy was crucial for the seizure of power by Benito Mussolini. After the March on Rome, King Victor Emmanuel III refused to sign a decree to declare a state of siege, and asked Mussolini to form a new government. The King's decisions were made in accordance with the Statuto, but in opposition to the parliamentary practices of the Italian liberal state, the Fascist Party having a little number of MPs only.

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