Italy is bracing for a political earthquake as the most right-wing Government seen since World War Two is expected to be handed power following tomorrow’s election.
The potential emergence of a far-right government in Italy has put the European Union on alert for disruptions – with fears that the unity of the war in Ukraine could be jeopardised.
The leader of the post-fascist Brothers of Italy Party, Giorgia Meloni, is slated to be a big winner in Sunday’s election, becoming Italy’s first female Prime Minister.
If she wins, the other two parties expected to form a government with her include Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi of the centre-right, who has attracted younger voters over TikTok.
The leader of the post-fascist Brothers of Italy Party, Giorgia Meloni (pictured), is a slated to be a big winner in Sunday’s election, becoming Italy’s first female Prime Minister.
Polling officials do final preparations ahead of general elections at a polling station in Rome ahead of the snap-election taking place on Sunday
Polling station officials prepare ballot papers ahead of the general election vote tomorrow. The snap election was triggered by the resignation of Prime Minister Mario Draghi in July, following the collapse of his big-tent coalition of leftist, right-wing and centrist parties
Why did Draghi resign?
Draghi, an internationally respected veteran, formally handed his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella in July.
The former head of the European Central Bank was parachuted into the premiership in 2021 as Italy wrestled with a pandemic and ailing economy.
But he led a fractious government which failed to come together under his agenda.
Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia, Salvini’s anti-immigrant League and the populist Five Star Movement all voted against his policies, forcing his hand.
The crisis was sparked when Five Star snubbed a key vote, despite warnings from Draghi that it would fatally undermine the coalition.
His downfall came in spite of polls suggesting most Italians wanted Draghi to stay at the helm until the scheduled general election next May.
The election comes as the country is facing a number of ongoing crises, ranging from massive debt, rising inflation and an energy crisis, linked to the war in Ukraine.
The party, which has gained popularity with its ‘Italians First’ agenda, has sparked concerns in Brussels.
The campaign, sparked by outgoing prime minister Mario Draghi’s downfall in July, wrapped up on Friday, giving Italians a day of reprieve as electioneering is banned until the vote.
Draghi was respected on the international stage and a darling of the EU establishment.
A victory by Meloni and Salvini would follow fast on an election in Sweden where the virulently anti-migration and Eurosceptic Sweden Democrats entered a ruling coalition, just months before the Scandinavian country is due to take over the EU’s rotating presidency.
Wolfango Piccoli of the London-based political risk consultancy Teneo told AFP: ‘The country is eager for a change, a new face.’
But officials in Brussels said they would not jump to conclusions about Italy, cautiously hanging on to reassurances made by key right-wing players ahead of the vote.
‘This is not the first time that we risk confronting governments formed with far-right or far-left parties,’ said European Commissioner Didier Reynders, a veteran of EU politics.
He added: ‘Let voters choose their elected representatives. We will react to the actions of the new government, and we have instruments at our disposal.’
Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi served his last day in office on Friday. Draghi was a respected politician on the international stage and a darling of the EU establishment
Italy is bracing for a political earthquake on the eve of its elections which expects to hand power to the most right-wing government the country has seen since World War Two
The League’s Matteo Salvini, Forza Italia’s Silvio Berlusconi, and Brothers of Italy’s Giorgia Meloni attend the final rally of the center-right coalition in central Rome, Thursday
That was echoed by Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, who warned that Brussels had ‘tools’ to deal with errant member states.
She said: ‘My approach is that whatever democratic government is willing to work with us, we’re working together.’
As election day draws close, Italy has a huge amount of EU money on the line, awaiting nearly 200 billion euros in EU cash and loans as part of the country’s massive share of the bloc’s coronavirus recovery stimulus package.
In order to secure each instalment, the government must deliver on a long list of commitments to reform and cut back spending made by previous administrations.
Sebastien Maillard, director of the Jacques Delors institute said: ‘To do without the billions from the recovery plan would be suicidal.’
In Naples ‘Fratelli d’Italia’ (the Brother’s of Italy) flags fly. The party, which has gained popularity with its ‘Italians First’ agenda, has sparked concerns in Brussels
Volunteers tape up the list of candidates names at a polling station in Rome on the eve of the country’s legislative election
Polling officials do final preparations ahead of general elections at a polling station in Turin, Italy on the eve of the elections set to shock
An EU official who works closely with Italy on economic issues added: ‘We will give them the benefit of the doubt.
‘We will judge them on their programme, who will be the finance minister. The names being mentioned are people that we in Brussels are familiar with.’
Concerns have been raised, however, about the impact the election could have with the ongoing war in Russia and Ukraine.
Many fear that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will find in Italy a quick ally in his quest to water down measures against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A longtime friend of the Kremlin, Salvini has promised that he will not try to undo the EU sanctions.
One woman Sicily said: ‘I am worried by the fact that the polls have the right-wing as the winner, especially Giorgia Meloni’
But many believe that his government will make the process more arduous in the coming months.
Whether the war or soaring inflation ‘what we are facing in the coming months is going to be very difficult and very much test European unity’, said Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive at the European Policy Centre.
The likely election result in Italy is “not going to help in making some of these hard decisions”, he added.
France’s European affairs minister, Laurence Boone, pointed to the headache of the far-right’s unpredictability.
‘One day they are for the euro, one day they are not for the euro. One day they support Russia, one day they change our minds,’ she told French radio.
‘We have European institutions that work. We will work together. But it is true that it is worrying,’ she added.
Last night, people in Rome said they were unsure who would win the election, but that the latest polls showed the Brothers of Italy party is likely to win and form a government.
Maria Tasca, 27, from Sicily said: ‘I am worried by the fact that the polls have the right-wing as the winner, especially Giorgia Meloni.
‘From what she has said on women’s rights, on young people’s rights, on rights in general, I see things going backwards by at least 50 years.’
A 75-year-old shop owner, who gave his name only as Dante, said: ‘The problems are worldwide, there’s no magic solution. But sometimes you have to change.’
Meloni, 45, has worked hard over the past few weeks to reassure skittish investors and an anxious Brussels that her party’s historic ties to supporters of dictator Benito Mussolini are a thing of the past.
She has softened her tone and posted a video of herself on TikTok making traditional pastries from the Puglia region.
But she channelled warrior Aragorn from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings on Thursday at the closing rally for the right-wing coalition, which unites her Brothers of Italy with Salvini’s anti-immigration League party and billionaire Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
Media mogul Berlusconi, 85, who is on trial accused of bribing starlets not to testify about his allegedly erotic parties – has campaigned mainly online, wooing grandmothers and housewives with promises of stay-at-home salaries.
The self-described ‘Christian mother’ segued smoothly from the fantasy king to blaming the left for the country’s ‘drug dealers, thieves, rapists and mafia’, adding: ‘This Italy ends on Sunday’.
Berlusconi, 85, was at her side. The media mogul – who is on trial accused of bribing starlets not to testify about his allegedly erotic parties – has campaigned mainly online, wooing grandmothers and housewives with promises of stay-at-home salaries.
Former interior minister Salvini, 49, campaigned under the slogan ‘Credo’ (I believe), earning him a rebuke from the Catholic Church.
Matteo Salvini (left) chatting with Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni on the stage of the centre-right coalition closing rally in Rome on Thursday
Fearful of losing a significant chunk of his supporters to Meloni, Salvini has tried to stand out by calling for an end to sanctions against Russia and railing against Brussels.
But the end of his campaign was overshadowed by a video clip of him describing a blind League candidate on Thursday as ‘an eye for Italians’.
The centre-left’s Enrico Letta, head of the Democratic Party (PD), rocked up to his final rally in an electric van – reminding voters of his earlier efforts to promote ecologically friendly transport, when his electric campaign bus ran out of battery.
His main rival for votes on the left, Giuseppe Conte, head of the populist Five Star Movement, seemed to have more staying power.
He was photographed so often standing head and shoulders above the crowd amid a throng of supporters that the media dubbed him the ‘travelling Madonna’.
Who is in the running to be the next Italian prime minister?
Riding high in voter opinion surveys for weeks now, Meloni might become Italy’s first far-right premier since the end of World War II, and its first ever female leader. Her Brothers of Italy party has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity since the vote in 2018, when it polled just over 4%.
In the now-expiring legislature, Meloni refused to have her party, which she co-founded in 2012, join any coalition government, including the pandemic unity government under outgoing Premier Mario Draghi.
Meloni might become Italy’s first far-right premier since the end of World War II
At 45, Meloni would also be one of Italy´s youngest premiers. She contends that the European Union is too bureaucratic but has said she wouldn´t push for any ‘Italexit’ – pulling the country out of the shared euro currency – and depicts herself as a staunch backer of NATO. She rallies against what she calls LGBT ‘lobbies´´ and promotes what she says is Europe´s ‘Christian identity.’
But in sharp contrast to her fellow leaders on Italy´s right – anti-migrant Matteo Salvini and former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who have both openly admired Russian President Vladimir Putin – Meloni backs military aid for Ukraine.
She is dogged by contentions she hasn’t made an unambiguous break with her party´s neo-fascist roots.
Letta, the 56-year-old leader of the Democratic Party, Italy´s main center-left force, is Meloni´s chief election rival.
Letta served as premier in a coalition including center-right forces after a 2013 election failed to yield a clear-cut majority. But he lost the premiership after barely 10 months when an ambitious fellow Democrat, Matteo Renzi, maneuvered to take the office for himself.
Letta, the 56-year-old leader of the Democratic Party, Italy´s main center-left force, is Meloni´s chief election rival
Burned by the ouster, Letta headed to teach in Paris at the prestigious Sciences Po university. With infighting chronically plaguing the Democrats, he returned to Italy to take back the reins of the party in March 2021.
Letta was foiled in his quest to build a solid center-left electoral alliance to challenge Meloni and her allies when the populist 5-Star Movement, the largest party in the outgoing Parliament, helped to collapse Draghi´s government this summer.
Salvini, the 49-year-old League party leader, had been the unchallenged face of right-wing leadership in Italy until Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party took off.
His party has roots in Italy´s industrial north. In a surprise move, he cut a deal in 2018 to govern with the 5-Star Movement, even after deriding the populist forces.
A little more than a year later, he maneuvered to oust 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte from the premiership, so he could take the office for himself. But Conte outmaneuvered Salvini and cut his own deal with the Democratic Party, forming a coalition government that left the League in the opposition.
Salvini, the 49-year-old League party leader, had been the unchallenged face of right-wing leadership in Italy until Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party took off
As interior minister in Conte´s first government, Salvini pushed his hard line against migrants, especially those arriving by the tens of thousands in smugglers´ boats launched from Libya. Under his tenure, migrants rescued by humanitarian ships were kept for days or weeks aboard the overcrowded vessels because he refused to quickly let them disembark. Prosecutors in Sicily had him indicted on kidnapping charges over his policy. He has been found innocent in one case; another trial in Palermo is still going on.
Berlusconi pioneered populist politics in Italy in the 1990s when he formed his own party and named it Forza Italia after a stadium soccer cheer. With his 86th birthday on Sept. 29, and Forza Italia´s popularity shrinking in recent years, the former three-term premier is not gunning for a fourth term but instead hoping for a Senate seat. Nearly a decade ago, the Senate expelled him because of a tax fraud conviction stemming from his media empire.
Berlusconi pioneered populist politics in Italy in the 1990s when he formed his own party and named it Forza Italia
Berlusconi promises to exercise a moderating influence on the two bigger parties in the right-wing alliance: those of Meloni and Salvini.
Berlusconi’s last premiership ended abruptly in 2011 when financial markets lost confidence that the billionaire media magnate could manage his country’s finances during Europe´s sovereign debt crisis.
A lawyer specializing in mediation, Conte, now 58, was plucked out of political obscurity to become premier in 2018 after the populist, euroskeptic 5-Star Movement he now heads stunned Italy´s establishment by sweeping nearly 33% of the vote to become Parliament’s largest party. When neither then-5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio nor right-wing leader Matteo Salvini budged on who would become premier, Conte got the job.
A lawyer specializing in mediation, Conte, now 58, was plucked out of political obscurity to become premier in 2018
Some 15 months later, Conte´s government collapsed when Salvini made a botched move to take the premiership for himself. But Conte outsmarted Salvini by forming a new government that replaced the League with the center-left Democratic Party.
Early in his second stint as premier, Italy became the first nation in the West to be slammed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Conte enforced one of the world´s strictest coronavirus lockdowns. But in January 2021, 16 months into Conte´s second government, it collapsed after Matteo Renzi, a former premier, yanked his small centrist party from the coalition.