Rome, Italy – Italy is set to vote on September 25 in a national election that will likely see its most far-right government in power since World War II, led by the country’s first female prime minister ever.
Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), a party with a post-fascist origin, is witnessing a meteoric rise – from 4 percent voter support in 2018 to a projected 25 percent this year – after political infighting led to the downfall of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity government.
What’s the talk of the town?
Campaigning along the “God, family and homeland” motto, Meloni put on alert opponents who say her rise to power will endanger democracy, roll back civil rights and push the country closer to nationalist and far-right parties such as Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban’s Fidesz and Spain’s Vox party.
For 10 years, her flagship policies have been based on slamming “illegal immigrants” and gay rights lobbies and criticising the European Union.
To win the elections, she has joined forces with anti-migrant Matteo Salvini’s League party, and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Forward Italy).
Unlike her coalition partners, she strengthened her reputation as a “coherent” politician by standing firm in opposition after refusing to support Draghi’s cabinet. This allowed her to pick up a large slice of the country’s opposition vote.
But as Italy is set to receive 200 billion euros ($200bn) in EU recovery funds and Meloni’s chances of becoming Italy’s first female prime minister are high, she has carefully worked on mending ties with Brussels by showing a more moderate face and delivering reassuring statements.
She repeatedly stressed her coalition would not pose a threat to the bloc’s stability and pledged support for Ukraine and for sanctions against Russia. Critics argue though that the softening of her tone is just a temporary readjustment.
There is also a lot of buzz around Brothers of Italy’s post-fascist roots, including over its logo – the same tricolour flame of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), a party founded in 1946 by supporters and former members of dictator Benito Mussolini which rebranded in the 1990s into a nationalist conservative group.
How does the voting system work?
Italians will vote for a slimmed-down parliament: 400 seats in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, and 200 in the Senate of the Republic. Candidates can compete in parties or coalitions and voters need to give one vote each for the Chamber and the Senate.
In the current electoral system, 37 percent of the seats will be allocated based on the first-past-the-post-principle, meaning that whoever gets more votes wins the seat.
The rest are allocated by proportional representation. What is the winning strategy then?
“Considering the electoral system, to have a wide coalition is fundamental, and by having a wider coalition the centre right is well facilitated [to win] compared to the fragmented left,” said Lorenzo Pregliasco, founding partner of polling firm YouTrend.
Leftish and centre-right parties have failed to form an alliance, despite several attempts by the leading left-wing Democratic Party (PD).
The latest polling gave more than 60 percent of seats to Meloni’s bloc. If confirmed, “it would be the wider majority ever held by a right-wing coalition in Italy’s recent history”, Pregliasco added.
Who is promising what?
The right-wing coalition has pledged loyalty to the EU and NATO, to impose harsher measures to prevent “illegal immigration” and to renegotiate some aspects of the 200 billion euros Italy is receiving as part of the EU recovery fund – a proposal that has raised eyebrows in Brussels. It stresses lower taxes for families, firms and self-employed.
They promise to replace the “citizens’ income” – a poverty relief scheme which was the signature policy of the Five Star Movement – with more “effective measures”. During the electoral campaign, Meloni has pushed it further, saying she wants to abolish it outright, arguing that rather than encouraging recipients to find jobs, it discouraged them.
The coalition also wants a constitutional reform which would introduce the direct election of the president who is currently voted by the parliament. This would bring Italy’s parliamentary democracy closer to a presidential system.
The political manifesto of the left-wing PD led by Enrico Letta, now polling at 22 percent, focuses on increasing welfare benefits and civil rights with special attention to the youth and the environment.
It promises to introduce a minimum wage to reduce temporary contracts, more investments in social housing and a reduction in the voting age from 18 to 16.
It wants to make it easier for migrants’ children to get Italian citizenship and to pass a law toughening penalties for discrimination against the LGBTQ community – two key issues of the left.
It also promises to offer gay married couples the same parental rights as heterosexual marriages.
The Five Star Movement witnessed a defection of some of its key members after its leader Giuseppe Conte refused to endorse the delivery of weapons to Ukraine.
Today the party’s policies are similar to those of the left, such as guaranteeing a minimum wage and helping immigrants’ children to get citizenship.
The party, which had taken Italy by storm during the 2018 elections catching a third of the vote, is polling at 13 percent.
The “third pole”, composed of former Economy Minister Carlo Calenda’s Azione and former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Italy Viva, currently polls at 5.5 percent.
The group pledged to pursue Draghi’s government and to lift a ban on nuclear power. It has extensively campaigned for the construction of a regasification terminal.
How does the future look like?
With polls are leaving little space for doubt on the results, questions loom over how will be the relationship between Meloni and her ally Salvini. Throughout the campaign, the coalition has shown some cracks.
Meloni disagreed on approving a 30 billion euros ($30bn) plan to tackle the energy crisis that would further increase Italian debt – a move that Salvini keeps pushing for.
But on the biggest issue that concerns Italy’s relations with Russia, the leader of the Brothers of Italy has said she intends to keep sanctioning Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, while Salvini has called for their removal saying they are not effective.
Meanwhile, 42 percent of Italians say they are either undecided on who to vote for or they will abstain from voting, a sign observers say shows how politics has drifted away from people.