Rome: Italy’s right-wing parties will hold a joint rally on Thursday in a final push ahead of scheduled elections to install a former Mussolini fan as the country’s first female prime minister.
Giorgia Meloni’s eurosceptic and ultra-conservative Brothers of Italy topped polls last released two weeks before election day on Sunday.
She and her allies, Matteo Salvini’s Anti-Immigration League and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, seem almost certain to form the first far-right-led government in Rome since World War II.
Elections in Italy, the eurozone’s third-largest economy but plagued by weak growth, colossal debt and unstable politics, are being watched closely in Brussels.
Meloni sought to reassure investors worried about his ties to Italy’s post-fascist movement, while courting voters unhappy with the status quo.
“As Gandhi said, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you. Then you win,'” she tweeted on Wednesday, along with a photo of her fingers in the shape of a V for Victory.
Meloni, Salvini and Berlusconi – who, at nearly 86, have campaigned largely virtually so far – will hold a rally in Rome on Thursday evening ahead of a final day of campaigning before a blackout.
Soaring inflation, a looming winter energy crisis and tensions with Russia over the war in Ukraine have dominated the debate in a country barely recovering from the trauma of the coronavirus.
Europe also featured prominently, with Italy set to receive nearly 200 billion euros in EU post-pandemic funds by 2026 in return for structural reforms long demanded by Brussels.
Meloni no longer calls for an exit from the euro but has made it clear that she will assert Italy’s national interests, while the right-wing coalition’s platform calls for a review of EU rules on public expenses.
Coalition members do not always agree, however, raising concerns about the stability of their possible future government.
Meloni and Salvini both pursue a nationalist “Italians First” agenda and demand an end to mass migration, while emphasizing traditional family values and Italy’s “Judeo-Christian” past.
But while Salvini has long admired Russian President Vladimir Putin and has criticized Western sanctions against Ukraine, Meloni is a strong supporter of Kyiv and their coalition is committed to NATO.
Their tensions have added some drama to an otherwise subdued campaign by the near inevitability of victory for the right since July, when Prime Minister Mario Draghi called for instant voting after his coalition collapsed.
Flavio Chiapponi, from the University of Bologna, said it was “one of the worst post-war election campaigns, there was no confrontation over policies or concrete measures to take”.
In the last general elections of 2018, the Brothers of Italy – born ten years ago from the post-fascist movement founded by supporters of dictator Benito Mussolini – won just over 4% of the vote.
His meteoric rise has been attributed to Meloni’s outspoken style and the outsider status of his party, the only one untainted by the compromises required to be in government.
The 45-year-old was Italy’s sole opposition leader for 18 months after all other parties joined Draghi’s national unity coalition in February 2021.
Brothers of Italy was last polled at around 24-25%, ahead of the centre-left Democratic Party at 21-22%, followed by the populist Five Star Movement at 13-15%.
With its allies – the League around 12% and Berlusconi’s party at 8% – Meloni’s coalition seems on track to obtain between 45 and 55% of the seats in parliament.
But Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta is pinning his hopes on the 40% of Italians who say they won’t vote or haven’t decided yet.
And experts warn that in a country that has seen nearly 70 governments since World War II, predicting politics is notoriously difficult.
“In Italy, the election is decided on the day people go to vote,” noted Marc Lazar, professor at the universities of Sciences Po in Paris and Luiss in Rome.