By Paul Kirby
Italians decide to choose their most right-wing government since World War II, in an election watched closely across Europe.
Giorgia Meloni leads the far-right Brothers of Italy party and is aiming to become the country’s first female prime minister allied with two other right-wing parties.
She has softened her image and resents being tied to Italy’s fascist past.
She supports Western sanctions against Russia and has toned down rhetoric about Europe.
But she still embraces an old slogan embraced by fascists – “God, Fatherland and Family” – she has spoken out against the “LGBT lobby” and called for a naval blockade of Libya to stop migration.
Voting continues until 11 p.m. local time, when exit polls and projections will give an idea of who won.
An hour south of Rome, in the town of Latina, observers believe the far right can take over the city from the left. Founded in 1932 by fascist leader Benito Mussolini, Latina still bears the dictator’s footsteps, but has suffered from years of underfunding.
“Look, it’s a disaster,” says a passerby. The city has had a leftist mayor in recent years, but the far right has Latina in its sights. Meloni ally Matteo Salvini came here last week to finish his League party’s campaign. The centre-right Forza Italia under ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 85, is also part of his coalition.
“Meloni speaks to people’s guts,” says Gianluca Atlante, a reporter for local newspaper Latina Oggi. Behind him stands the imposing Palazzo Emme, built in the shape of the letter M for Mussolini. Today, it serves as the local headquarters of the Ministry of Finance’s law enforcement agency.
Italy’s economy has recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic, but the energy crisis – largely triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – has driven prices up. While politicians have spent the past few days arguing over Russia and Europe, Italians are mostly concerned about paying their bills.
The EU has agreed to send Italy 200 billion euros ($337 billion) in post-Covid stimulus grants and loans, but this is conditional on reforms agreed by Mario’s outgoing unity government Draghi. Giorgia Meloni called for the plan to be revised and spoke of doing more to “defend” Italy’s national interests in the EU.
No wonder many European leaders are following this vote closely.
Until early August, Italian left and center parties sought to issue a common challenge to the Meloni alliance. But they failed to reach an agreement, and Meloni’s biggest rival in the opinion polls – center-left Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta – now faces an uphill battle.
It even shares several policies with the Five Star Movement led by Giuseppe Conte, but they disagree.
From right to left, politicians agree that Italy’s school system is in disrepair, but teachers like Elisa are skeptical that this election will change that.
Italians elect two chambers of parliament – the Chamber and the Senate – and under new rules their size has been reduced by a third, so that the Chamber has 400 seats and the Senate 200.
This is likely to help the winning alliance the most, when combined with Italy’s mixed electoral system. More than a third of the seats are won by a British-style first-past-the-post system, and more than 60% by proportional representation across Italy.
Any alliance that wins 40% of the vote could win up to 60% of the seats, Italian commentators estimate. It’s a new system, so it’s being watched closely, and particularly by the right-wing alliance, as they need the support of two-thirds of parliament to carry out one of their flagship policies.
Even if the Brothers of Italy arrive at the top of the vote and that the allies of Giorgia Meloni grant him an absolute majority, it is not their decision who becomes Prime Minister. That goes to President Sergio Mattarella, who plays an important role in Italy’s constitution.
And Meloni and his allies want a radical change in his role, making him a directly elected head of state rather than an impartial figure chosen by parliament. “Presidentialism” may sound more democratic, but there’s a reason why some Italians worry about giving more power to their head of state – and it also goes back to the earlier experience of fascism in Italy.
At Latina, they don’t just watch the political battle that’s going on between left and right, there’s another story that’s on people’s minds as well.
One of the most valuable Italian stars of the past, Gina Lollobrigida, represents the Senate. Now 95, she became a film legend in the 1960s and she defied a broken femur to fight in Sunday’s election.