Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Italy have the potential to make history by electing the nation’s first female prime minister to lead its most right-wing administration since World War Two.
Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy (FdI), a nationalist party, received just 4% of the vote in 2018, but is predicted to receive about 25% of the vote this time, giving a coalition of conservative allies a substantial legislative majority. One political commentator Wolgango Piccoli from the Political risk-advisory firm Teneo described the situation in Italy, where he believes there’s a mentality that says “let’s try her now, we’ve tried everyone else”.
If indeed the tough-talking Meloni is successful, she will have to deal with a number of difficult obstacles, such as rising energy prices, a crushing mountain of debt, a potential recession, and an increasingly violent conflict in Ukraine. There will be a lot of expectations placed on the 45-year-old Rome resident who is vowing to crack down on immigration and reduce taxes.
International leaders viewed Mario Draghi, the departing prime minister and internationally acclaimed former president of the European Central Bank, as a reassuring figure. He however, recently resigned in July after a mutiny within his national unity government.
Meloni, unlike the leaders of every other significant party, declined to join Draghi’s alliance and instead watched her popularity soar from the opposition benches where she skillfully criticised the hefty steps the government implemented to address the COVID-19 situation.
Meloni is a wonderful communicator but has little experience and a tight budget, so Piccoli predicted that she won’t have a lengthy honeymoon.
A Closer Contest?
Additionally, Meloni may have a significantly lower majority than predicted when a polling blackout went into effect on September 9 or possibly come up just short, paving the stage for the kind of political instability that frequently plagues Italy.
Ten days earlier, the right-wing coalition, which consists of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and Matteo Salvini’s League, was projected to receive about 45% of the vote, which would give them a majority of seats in parliament (more than 60%).
However, since then, there has been considerable speculation that the left-leaning 5-Star Movement has gained ground while Salvini’s League, which is always under fire for its long-standing ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has fallen behind.
The fact that voters will choose a parliament with fewer seats—the lower house will have 400 seats instead of 630, and the Senate will have 200 instead of 315—adds to the uncertainty. This makes it more difficult to predict the outcome.
The right-wing group has reiterated previous commitments to reduce taxes, lower the retirement age, and stop migrants from sailing from North Africa to Italy. Meloni has proposed a naval blockade to stop refugees from setting sail.
Such a move, according to opponents, would be illegal and impractical. The left-wing opposition party “5-Star” has committed to protect welfare benefits for the poor, a promise that has resonated in the less wealthy south, where politicians from all political spheres have recently travelled in an effort to sway a large number of voters who are still undecided.
Because of the FdI’s neo-fascist roots and its ties to Hungary’s nationalist leader Viktor Orban, who has been accused by the European Union of violating the rule of law, the main centre-left Democratic Party has frequently advised against electing Meloni.
Meloni has downplayed her own far-right heritage, claiming that her organisation is a mainstream force similar to the Conservative Party in Britain and that she fully supports Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
But while running for office, she took care to avoid alienating her primary supporters who identify with the far-right. At a recent rally she told her supporters “..I dream of a nation where people who have had to lower their heads for many years, pretending that they have different ideas so as not to be ostracised, can now say what they think”.