Italy is expected to elect its first far-right leader since Benito Mussolini when the nationalist Giorgia Meloni is swept into power on Sunday’s vote.
The Brothers of Italy leader has been dominating the polls despite a number of gaffes in her campaign, which saw her forced to suspend a party candidate for praising Hitler and a close associate accused of performing a Nazi salute.
The unmarried mother-of-one was also slammed for sharing a video last month of a Ukrainian refugee allegedly being raped by an asylum seeker in the city of Piacenza, to whip up anti-migrant hysteria.
The 45-year-old, who would be the country’s first ever female prime minister, has captured the public imagination with her campaign of ‘God, country and family’ and railing against ‘woke ideology’.
‘Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby! Yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology! Yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death!’ a wild-eyed Meloni cried in a speech in June.
Brothers of Italy has roots in a neo-fascist movement formed to carry on the legacy of dictator Mussolini.
Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, takes a selfie during a rally in the Duomo square in Milan
Yesterday, she appeared on stage alongside Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi in a campaign in Rome. The trio are likely to form an alliance in power
The 45-year-old, who would be the country’s first ever female prime minister, has captured the public imagination
Meloni is pictured in 2009 alongside then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi when she served as Minister for Youth
In 2019, Meloni introduced Caio Giulio Cesare Mussolini, a great-grandson of Benito Mussolini, as one of her candidates for the European Parliament, although he eventually lost.
The result of Sunday’s election will come almost 100 years to the month after Mussolini came to power in October 1922.
Meloni’s main alliance partner is right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini, who advocates a similar anti-migrant message and has spoken in support of Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Vladimir Putin.
Meloni, who called for a blockade off the North African coast to stop ships carrying migrants to Italy, also congratulated Putin’s election win in 2018 but says she is now in favour of Western sanctions against Russia.
The elections are being closely watched in Brussels, where the prospect of a eurosceptic, populist government heading the eurozone’s third largest economy has sparked concerns.
Meloni argues on stage with an LGBT activist holding a rainbow flag during a campaign in Cagliari
The result of Sunday’s election will come almost 100 years to the month after Mussolini came to power in October 1922
Meloni, the sole major party leader to refuse to join Draghi’s coalition, is polling the strongest of the candidates
The publication of polls was halted 15 days before Sunday’s vote, but before then they indicated Meloni’s party would be the biggest vote-getter, just ahead of the centre-left Democratic Party headed by former Premier Enrico Letta.
Brothers of Italy was last polling at around 24-25 percent, ahead of the centre-left Democratic Party on 21 or 22 percent, followed by Five Star on 13-15 percent.
With the League around 12 percent and Berlusconi’s party at eight percent, Meloni’s coalition looks on course to secure between 45 and 55 percent of seats in parliament.
But with 40 percent of Italians saying they have yet to decide or will not vote, experts warn there is still room for some upset in a country famous for its unstable politics, with almost 70 governments since 1946.
Letta had hoped in vain for a campaign alliance with the left-leaning populist 5-Star Movement, the largest party in the outgoing legislature.
The outgoing government is headed by former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi. In early 2021, Italy’s president tapped Draghi to form a unity government after the collapse of the second ruling coalition of 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte.
In what Pregliasco called an ‘apparent paradox,’ polls indicate that ‘most Italians like Draghi and think his government did a good job.’
Yet Meloni, the sole major party leader to refuse to join Draghi’s coalition, is polling the strongest.
Meloni received widespread condemnation for posting a video of a Ukrainian woman being raped by an asylum seeker in an Italian city last month
Supporters hold a banner which reads ‘we are Giorgia’ during a rally in Rome yesterday
Meloni served as youth minister in Berlusconi’s last government, which ended a decade ago
Meloni served as youth minister in Berlusconi’s last government, which ended a decade ago.
She grow up in a working class neighbourhood of Rome and joined the Italian Social Movement at the age of 15.
When she became the country’s youngest ever minister, aged 31, she still lived at home with her mother and refused to take a chauffeur-drive government car to parliament, instead taking her Mini.
Her tax advisor father left the family when she was 11 and moved to the Canary Islands, something she says left her with a feeling of inadequacy that fuels her strong work ethic.
Her team say she has exacting standards and writes only by hand in capital letters and demands every item she has to read is printed on a single page in Segoe font size 12, Politico reported.
One of the most divisive issues of her campaign has been abortion after Meloni said she wanted to give a choice to women unsure about terminating pregnancies.
‘We won’t touch the abortion law. We just want (women) to know there are other options,’ she said.
Meloni is likely to keep her word on not criminalising abortion, said Bonino, who did time in jail in the 1970s for her fight to legalise it.
But she fears Meloni will instead ‘push for the law to be ignored’, exacerbating an existing problem – difficulties in getting hold of abortion pills or finding gynaecologists willing to perform terminations.
But others are backing the likely leader, for her strong stance on immigration and her vow to cut taxes.
Brothers of Italy has roots in a neo-fascist movement formed to carry on the legacy of dictator Mussolini
Meloni is expected to beat the centre-left Democratic Party headed by former Premier Enrico Letta (pictured centre)
‘I will vote for Meloni because I believe that immigration and taxes are the main issues that need to be addressed,’ 21-year-old Margherita Conti told Reuters.
‘But I will also do it because I am happy that we will have a female prime minister and that it will be Giorgia.’
She spoke to a huge crowd of supporters alongside Salvini and Berlusconi last night, who rarely appears in public due to frail health and appeared to have trouble walking.
The rally showed the wave of support for the right-wing candidate, despite setbacks earlier in her campaign.
A Brothers of Italy candidate in Sicily was suspended by his party after he posted phrases on social media showing appreciation for Hitler.
Separately, a brother of one of Meloni’s co-founders was spotted giving what appeared to be the fascist salute at a funeral for a relative. The brother denied that.
For years, the right wing has crusaded against unbridled immigration, after hundreds of thousands of migrants reached Italy’s shores aboard smugglers’ boats or vessels that rescued them in the Mediterranean Sea.
Both Meloni and Salvini have thundered against what they see as an invasion of foreigners not sharing what they call Italy’s ‘Christian’ character.
The elections are being closely watched in Brussels, where the prospect of a eurosceptic, populist government heading the eurozone’s third largest economy has sparked concerns
Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni speaks at the final rally of the center-right coalition in central Rome
One of the most divisive issues of her campaign has been abortion after Meloni said she wanted to give a choice to women unsure about terminating pregnancies
Letta, who wants to facilitate citizenship for children of legal immigrants, has, too, played the fear card. In his party’s campaign, ads on buses, half the image depicts a serious-looking Letta with his one-word motto, ‘Choose,’ with the other half featuring an ominous-looking image of Putin.
Salvini and Berlusconi have both expressed admiration for the Russian leader. Meloni backs supplying arms so Ukraine can defend itself.
With energy bills as much as 10 times higher than a year ago, how to save workers’ jobs ranks high among Italian voters’ worries.
But with the exception of Salvini, who wants to revisit Italy’s closed nuclear power plants, candidates have largely failed to distinguish themselves in proposing solutions to the energy crisis. Nearly all are pushing for a EU cap on gas prices.
The perils of climate change haven’t loomed large in the Italian campaign. Italy’s tiny Greens party, a campaign partner of Letta, is forecast to capture barely a few seats in Parliament.