Rome Italians vote today in a constitutional referendum on whether to give regions more clout and shift power to the premier to encourage more stability in a country that has had 61 governments since World War II.
Opponents of the changes - including Premier Romano Prodi - say the reforms were shoddily conceived under the previous government and would give too much power to the executive.
Italy's constitution, enacted in 1948, limits the premier's powers more than other Western governments, reflecting the country's fear of dictatorship in the wake of Benito Mussolini's Fascist wartime regime. The reforms would be the biggest overhaul of the constitution since it was adopted.
The referendum, a two-day vote that starts today, is also seen as a test of Prodi's popularity two months after he won national elections by a very narrow margin. Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose government devised the reforms, is urging citizens to approve the changes.