Brussels and financial markets are watching the Italian elections closely, amid fears they may be the latest to veer to the hard right
Rome (AFP) – Italians voted Sunday on whether to establish the country’s first far-right government since World War Two, bringing Eurosceptic populists to the heart of Europe.
The Brotherhood of Italy, led by Mussolini’s supporter Giorgia Meloni, has led the polls and appears ready to take power in a coalition with the far-right League party and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.
Meloni, 45, who campaigned under the slogan “God, Country and Family,” hopes to become Italy’s first female prime minister.
Even before it opened at 0500 GMT, AFP reporters saw, voters began lining up in front of polling stations.
“I play to win, not just to participate,” Matteo Salvini, president of the far-right League, told reporters as he went to cast his vote.
“I can’t wait to return from tomorrow as part of the government of this exceptional country,” he added.
President Sergio Mattarella and Enrico Letta, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, also voted early on Sunday. Polls close at 2100 GMT.
Many voters are expected to choose Meloni, “the new, the only leader Italians have yet to experience,” Wolfango Piccoli of Teneo consultancy told AFP.
Giorgia Meloni, 45, campaigned under the slogan “God, Country and Family”
Brussels and markets are watching closely, amid fears that Italy – a founding member of the European Union – may be the last to veer to the far right, less than two weeks after the far-right won an election in Sweden.
If she wins, Meloni will face challenges from rampant inflation to an energy crisis as winter approaches, linked to the conflict in Ukraine.
The Italian economy, the third largest in the eurozone, has rebounded after the pandemic, but is saddled with debt worth 150 percent of gross domestic product.
– ‘Limited room to maneuver’ –
Meloni dedicated her campaign to trying to prove her readiness even though her party had never come to power.
The Brothers of Italy, who have roots in the post-fascist movement founded by supporters of dictator Benito Mussolini, received just four percent of the vote during the last election in 2018.
Meloni has modified her views over the years, notably abandoning her calls for Italy to leave the European Union’s single currency.
However, she insists her country must defend its national interests, supporting Hungary in its rule of law battles with Brussels.
Reshaping the Italian right
Her coalition wants to renegotiate the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund, arguing that the nearly 200 billion euros to be received by Italy must take into account an energy crisis exacerbated by the Ukraine war.
“Italy cannot be denied these sums,” political sociologist Marc Lazar told AFP, meaning Meloni in fact “has very limited room for maneuver”.
The money is linked to a series of reforms just begun by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who called snap elections in July after the National Unity coalition collapsed.
Although skeptical of the European Union, Meloni strongly supports EU sanctions against
Russia over Ukraine, although her allies are another matter.
Berlusconi, a former billionaire who has been a long-time friend of Vladimir Putin, faced sharp protest this week after suggesting the Russian president had been “pushed” into war by his entourage.
– ‘Awaken the ideologies’ –
Meloni, an outspoken Romanian raised by a single mother in a working-class neighborhood, criticizes what she calls “gay lobbies,” “awakened ideology” and “Islam violence.”
She has pledged to stop the tens of thousands of migrants arriving on Italy’s shores each year, a position she shares with Salvini, who is currently on trial for blocking charity rescue ships when he was interior minister in 2019.
“I play to win, not just to participate,” said Matteo Salvini, president of the far-right League.
The centre-left Democratic Party says Meloni is a danger to democracy.
It also claims that its government would pose a grave danger to hard-earned rights such as abortion and would ignore global warming, even though Italy was in the front line in the climate emergency.
On the economy, Meloni’s coalition pledges to cut taxes while increasing social spending, no matter the cost, and they want to adjust EU rules on public spending.
The latest opinion polls, two weeks before Election Day, indicate that one in four voters supports Meloni.
However, about 20 percent of the electorate is still undecided, and there are signs that it may get a smaller majority in Parliament than expected.
In particular, support appears to be growing for the populist Five Star Movement in the impoverished South.
The next government is unlikely to take office before the second half of October, and despite Meloni and Salvini’s pledges to serve for five years, history suggests they may run into difficulties.
Italian politics is notorious for its instability. The country has had 67 governments since 1946.