Italy Expected to Swing Far-Right in Sunday's Election
Giorgia Meloni and her far-right Brothers of Italy party are predicted to win the most votes in Sunday's election
Days before the Italian election, Calogero Pisano was stripped of his party posts, because he had referred to Adolf Hitler as a "great statesman" and declared Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the Brothers of Italy (FdI) party, to be a "modern fascist." Pisano was a chapter coordinator for Brothers of Italy in the Sicilian region of Agrigento, until his fascist Facebook posts from 2014 and 2016 were unearthed by Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The FdI leadership took swift action: Pisano was fired, despite his insistence that he was "ashamed" of his past comments and had distanced himself from them long ago.
This episode in the Italian election campaign shows that, after having worked hard to erase her party's post-fascist past and lend it a fresh appearance, Giorgia Meloni will not allow it to be sullied by provincial politicians. For the past three years, Meloni, who embarked on her political career in a post-fascist youth organization and went on to co-found the far-right populist Brothers of Italy in 2012, has been trying to present a more moderate image. She no longer advocates for leaving the European Union and the unified currency as she once did; instead; she just wants to reform them as Italy sees fit. Unlike other right-wing populists in Europe, she condemns Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine. She supports sanctions against Russia and supplying weapons to Ukraine. At the same time, she believes that Britain's decision to exit the EU was the right one, and maintains close ties with the British Conservative party. Meloni is also the president of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), an association of right-wing populist European parties that includes the Polish governing party PiS.
Giorgia Meloni denies being a 'post-fascist', and has sought to present a more moderate image
Is Meloni moderate?
Lutz Klinkhammer, an Italy expert and deputy director of the German Historical Institute in Rome, would not describe Meloni as post-fascist. "Her supporters certainly have some attitudes that differ from hers. She herself has rejected the label 'fascist.' I don't think that's an adequate way of characterizing her, either. But she's certainly someone who is steering a very conservative course in domestic policy, and will try to halt immigration. She is a conservative politician with a post-fascist past."
During her campaign, Meloni poked fun at European fears of a government led by the far-right, saying that those in Brussels were simply afraid of losing sinecures and power. Meloni supports Poland and Hungary in their ongoing dispute with the European Commission and the European Court of Justice over the rule of law, meaning that Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, who is currently under pressure from the EU over corruption in his country, may be about to gain a new ally on the European Council.
Lorenzo Di Sio, a professor of politics at LUISS University in Rome, told DW that a Meloni government "might perhaps be a bit more assertive" when negotiating Italy's position in Brussels. "That's what we can expect, for sure," he said. "But it appears unlikely that the key coordinates of Italian foreign policy, and Italian policy towards European integration, will change."
Meloni's Brothers of Italy is expected to win the most votes, and to form a coalition with other right-wing and far-right parties
Focus on social welfare benefits
According to Lutz Klinkhammer, Italian voters are not that interested in European and foreign policy. "Italians are feeling insecure," he says. "The election is primarily about money, fears of being worse off, retaining social security measures. There is already a widespread fear of sinking into poverty. It's a protest election, as we've had several times in Italy over the past decade. Only now, people's hopes are focused on a leader from the right, not the left-wing populists."
Energy prices, inflation, and the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis have been the dominant topics in election rallies and TV talk shows. Parties of both the right and the left have promised more social benefits. Meloni, however, balks at increasing public debt. All parties want to benefit from the 200 billion euros that Italy is due to receive from the EU's COVID-19 recovery fund over the coming years, in the form of grants or low-interest loans. Lutz Klinkhammer in Rome comments that, for this reason alone, no new Italian government will be able to completely turn its back on the EU.
Leftists are divided
For the past few weeks, Giorgia Meloni has continually topped the opinion polls, with the social democrats in second place. The Brothers of Italy are projected to win 25% of the vote on Sunday, and the social-democratic "Partito Democratico" around 22%. The ultra-conservative Meloni wants to form a coalition with the other two right-wing populist parties, Lega and Forza Italia. This would give the right-wing alliance a comfortable majority in the two equal chambers of the Italian parliament. Lega, the party of former interior minister Matteo Salvini, is at about 13% in the opinion polls. Forza Italia, led by the old warhorse Silvio Berlusconi, is polling at 7%. According to Italian electoral law, the block that gains a relative majority of votes gets an absolute majority of seats in the scaled-down parliament.
Meloni was a cabinet minister under Silvio Berlusconi, and is politically allied with him and Lega's Matteo Salvini
The political left, which should have rallied around the Democratic Party, is hopelessly divided, and was unable to forge a broad alliance during the election campaign. Opinion polls indicate that the left wing and small liberal parties will be no match for the right. Support for the formerly popular Five Star Movement, previously the strongest party, has dropped to just 13%. Like the Five Star Movement, the social democrats have also split into several factions, thereby reducing their chances in the election.
Right-wing coalition not a novelty
It's debatable how long a new right-wing government under Giorgia Meloni, potentially the country's first female prime minister, would last. Italy has had a right-wing coalition before, in 2001. Back then, the more moderate Silvio Berlusconi led the biggest party in the right-wing camp. However, Lutz Klinkhammer from the German Historical Institute in Rome says that post-fascists and right-wing populists are not a new phenomenon in Italian politics: "The post-fascists have been a very substantial presence in various governments since 2001. So, in that respect I don't think a new government led by Giorgia Meloni is likely to represent a qualitative leap."
Politics professor Lorenzo Di Sio, meanwhile, warns against relying too heavily on Italian opinion polls, which are sometimes unreliable, and says the right-wing parties' majority may not be as big as predicted. In certain regions — the south, for example — left-wing groups stand a good chance of doing well, and this would affect the majority in the Senate, Italy's second parliamentary chamber.
Voting will end at 11 p.m. CEST on Sunday, and the media will publish their initial predictions immediately afterward. Reliable projections of the result are expected at around 2 a.m. CEST.
This article has been translated from German.
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