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After the results of the Brexit referendum and the USA presidential election, Ms Nocera said she wasn't inclined to trust opinion polls.

Italians have a rare opportunity to erode the power and privileges of the despised political "caste" or old guard, Matteo Renzi said, as the country prepares to vote on a controversial constitutional reform in a referendum on Sunday.

In a year of global political upsets, few political analysts are willing to predict how Italians will vote on Sunday Decmber 4 on changes to the country's constitution.

"I don't hope for or expect a technocratic government", the economist said in an interview on SkyTg 24.

"For the first time, you citizens can change the rules of politics".

Shares in Italy's leading lender Unicredit tumbled 5.7 per cent, while those in the second-largest bank Intesa Sanpalo fell 4.2 per cent. Banks across Europe were hit by investors being nervous about the difficulties in Italy's banking sector.

Senior bankers have told the FT they fear Mr Renzi's resignation would deter private investors from pumping fresh funds to recapitalise lenders, leading to concerns they will need to be put under a new European Union "resolution" mechanism that would force losses on creditors.

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Mr Iannelli warned this could lead to nationalisation of the Monte dei Paschi bank in a worst-case scenario. "In this way, Italy will remain a system that favors instability and backdoor dealings".

When a handful of European leaders met Barack Obama in Berlin this month to say their goodbyes, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi informed the group that he may well lose power before the US president.

But that could also bring forward parliamentary elections now slated for 2018.

The once dominant Forza Italia (Go Italy) party of former premier Silvio Berlusconi lies just behind the Northern League.

The referendum seeks to reduce the powers and the size of the senate, the upper house of Italy's parliament.

But if the referendum fails, the spillover effects for Italy and the rest of Europe could be nasty. Renzi's opposition, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, sees Trump's win as a vindication. Shweta Singh, of Lombard Street Research, said Italy's weakness since the turn of the millennium was the result of three factors: a slow takeup of new information technology; the inability of the government to devalue the currency to restore competitiveness; and the challenge posed by China in numerous markets where Italy has traditionally been strong. On Tuesday an investor survey by Frankfurt-based Sentix rated Italy's chances of leaving the eurozone in the next 12 months at 19.3%, the highest since the index began in 2012, and worse than Greece. The annual cost of insuring against a default on $10 million of Italian debt for five years using credit-default swaps rose to about $170,000 this week from $97,000 at the start of the year. Italian subordinated bank bonds, the most risky exposure to the sector after equities, fell but many are still trading far above levels they touched earlier this year. Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena shares have almost halved in just over a month, while the 10-year Italian bond yield has j umped almost 60 basis point to 2.05% over the same timeframe.

As Prime Minister Matteo Renzi enters his final week of campaigning before Italy's constitutional referendum, the key question for many is what the PM will do if he loses the vote.