A series of tremors that raged across Italy on September 23 could soon be followed by a major earthquake of a political nature. Opinion polls predict that on Sunday, September 25, Italians will elect the most right-wing government since becoming a republic in 1946.
For the first time in the country’s history, a woman, Giorgia Meloni, 45, could become prime minister. She would lead Italy’s 70th government since 1946. Ms. Meloni is the Rome-born leader of the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia), described as a “post-fascist party”. Their motto is “God, Fatherland and Family”.
The election comes at a time of great crisis in Europe and Italy. In recent years, the continent has seen the rise of populism in many countries, including Hungary, Poland, Sweden, France, Spain, Germany and Italy, challenging the cohesion of the European Union and its 27 member states.
Ms. Meloni is the Roman-born leader of the Brothers of Italy, who has been described as a “post-fascist party”. Their motto is “God, Fatherland and Family”.
The latest opinion polls in Italy were published on September 9th; The nation’s electoral laws prohibit the publication of polls after this date. However, this has not prevented polls of varying quality from being conducted and shared on social media. Everyone is predicting the victory of the right-wing coalition.
This coalition is made up of three political parties: the Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni, who served as youth minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s government in 2008; the Lega (Lega), a xenophobic, anti-migrant party led by Matteo Salvini, 49, who served as interior minister in 2018; and Forward Italy (Forza Italia), the centre-right liberal party led by Mr Berlusconi, 85, a former Italian prime minister and multimillionaire businessman.
How big will the centre-right win be? According to the polls, Ms Meloni’s party alone could take 24 percent or more of the national vote, while the right-wing coalition wins up to 48 percent.
In an article published today, The Economist writes that this populist advance “signals a sharp shift in the European balance towards the nationalist hard right. Voters are fed up with the failings of mainstream parties and are banking on the untried and untried.”
Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken out against the rise of populism since his election in 2013. He has warned publics in Italy and Europe not to be misled by self-proclaimed “saviors” and reminded Europeans that a similar wave of discontent brought Hitler to power by popular vote at a time of great crisis in Germany. Pope Francis has strongly supported the European Union while calling for reforms within it.
Pope Francis has spoken out against the rise of populism. He has warned the public in Italy and Europe not to be fooled by self-proclaimed “saviors”.
The biggest challenger to Ms Meloni and her coalition is the centre-left Democratic Party, led by Enrico Letta, 56, a former Italian prime minister and current MP. 21 to 24 percent of the votes are forecast for his party. The center-left coalition supporting him includes three parties: Europe+ (led by Emma Bonino, long-time member of the Italian and European Parliament), the Italian Left (Sinistra) and the Greens. Together, this coalition should receive around 28 to 30 percent of the votes.
Another key challenger is the Five Star Movement, led by Giuseppe Conte, 58, who has been prime minister twice and ruled with both the right and left in the last legislature. The Five Star Movement overthrew Mario Draghi’s government on July 21, eight months before the end of the legislative period, winning the most votes in the last elections.
But many MPs broke from the movement in July after the decision to overthrow the government. The Five Star Party could take 10-15 per cent of the vote, according to polls, and could play a significant role if Ms Meloni fails to win a majority.
Likewise, the Third Pole (Terzo Polo), a centrist coalition, could play an important role if it wins many seats in parliament. One of Third Pole’s coalition members is Italy Alive, led by Matteo Renzi, 47, a former prime minister and now a senator in parliament. The other member, the Action Party, is led by Carlo Calenda, 49, a business executive and Member of the European Parliament. According to some polls, the Third Pole coalition could win eight percent of the vote.
Finally, the September 25 vote contains a wildcard — Italians choosing not to vote at all. Political disenchantment reigns supreme among Italians, and two days before the election, more than a third of the 51.4 million Italians eligible to vote (six million of them abroad) are still undecided.
“I think politics is dead, the whole election is a circus, a spectacle. Politicians care more about their popularity than about the common good. I’ve had enough. I won’t vote.”
Polls suggest the abstention rate could be around 30 to 40 percent. Many Italians did not welcome an election at this time of crisis; others have little or no faith in current political parties.
Among the latter is Raffaela Moroni, a 54-year-old Roman woman who works in the tourism industry. she said America, “For the first time in my life I am not voting. I think politics is dead, the whole election is a circus, a spectacle. Politicians care more about their popularity than about the common good. I’ve had enough. I won’t vote.”
It is not clear which party will benefit most if many other Italians follow suit and suspend the election.
Mr Letta, the Socialist leader of the Democratic Party and former dean of studies at Sciences Po in Paris, in a recent interview with La Nación, listed four crises that have afflicted Italy over the past 12 years and have caused great anxiety among the population: the financial crisis (2008), the ongoing immigration crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic crisis and now the war in Ukraine.
He said the fears surrounding these crises had prompted many Italians to turn to populist parties. This has already led to the triumph of the Five Star Movement and the League in the 2018 Italian elections.
Mr Letta alleges that Russia has used its energy policies to inflate gas and oil prices for Italian households in order to sway the outcome of Italy’s elections in his favour. Like many others, he notes that both Mr Berlusconi and Mr Salvini are friends of Mr Putin, while Ms Meloni is a strong supporter of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a close ally of Putin.
Enrico Letta: “A victory for Meloni and the right would be a great result for Putin. He would be the happiest of them all.”
“From an international political perspective, a victory for Meloni and the right would be a great result for Putin. He would be the happiest of them all,” Mr Letta said.
He believes that a victory for the centre-right coalition in Italy could not only affect the unity of the European Union, but also the support it offers Ukraine with arms, humanitarian aid and sanctions against Russia. Ms Meloni insists she would support Ukraine if elected, but several analysts wonder if her recent statement on the matter is just a tactical stance to calm fears among European and North American leaders. All of this is happening as Russia’s war against Ukraine continues into its 211th day, with no end in sight.
Ms Meloni’s right-wing coalition, emphasizing “Italians first” and pledging to get Italy back on its feet by increasing employment, championing Italy in the European Union, tightly controlling immigration and cutting taxes. Her coalition is also opposed to granting Italian citizenship to the children of migrants who have completed their entire studies in Italian schools.
Her coalition partner, Mr Salvini, identifies as a Catholic but strongly disagrees with Pope Francis’ stance on immigration. Like Ms. Meloni, he often quotes John Paul II in speeches.
Ms. Meloni, who speaks with a heavy Roman accent, describes herself as a conservative Catholic. She is an unmarried mother with a partner and a child. She has approached African Cardinal Robert Sarah to enlist the Vatican’s support if she becomes prime minister. She acknowledges her belief that marriage is between a man and a woman and calls for further progress on legislation related to LGBT people.
Ms Meloni has reached out to African Cardinal Robert Sarah to enlist the Vatican’s support should she become prime minister.
Mr Letta and his coalition strongly support the European Union, the Atlantic Alliance and aid to Ukraine. Like Mrs Meloni, he wants a cap on gas prices, but he wants this to happen in agreement with the European Union.
He advocates universal health coverage and offers citizenship to children of migrants who studied in Italian schools and tries to create more job opportunities for young people. He supports reforming Italy’s tax system and providing a ‘dowry’ of up to 10,000 euros ($9,950) for teenagers when they turn 18.
He is hoping for a high share of the vote from the 4.1 million young people voting for the first time in both Italy’s Senate and Chamber of Deputies. Previously, you could vote for the latter from the age of 18, but you only had to be 25 to be in the Senate.
The program of Mr. Renzi and Mr. Calenda does not differ significantly from that of Mr. Letta. They had indeed sought a coalition with Mr Letta, an attempt that failed when Mr Letta brought smaller parties into the coalition.
Mr. Conte has been described as a chameleon. As prime minister, he formed alliances with both the Lega and the Democratic Party. He then overthrew Mr Draghi’s government in July to improve his party’s chances in the elections. He appears to be gaining support as many remember him ruling the country well during the pandemic. However, he has been ambiguous about arms sales to Ukraine and has insisted on a negotiated path to peace.
Polling stations across the country open at 7am on September 25 and close at 11pm. Italians will vote for the first time under a new electoral system that has halved the number of seats in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.
Each elector receives two ballots, one for each chamber of Parliament, and elects candidates directly and by proportional allocation. There could be some surprises as a result.
The first predicted winners, based on exit polls, are expected to be announced just after 11pm on Sunday, but the final, official tally will almost certainly take much longer.