Italy Poised to Elect First Female Leader Amid Concerns Over Neo-Fascist Roots
Italians go to the polls this Sunday to choose a new government, after the collapse of the ruling coalition led by Mario Draghi.
A right-wing party with past ties to fascism appears poised to win the most votes, raising concerns among allies.
Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party leads the polls with about 25% of the votes. The 45-year-old is destined to become Italy’s first female prime minister. You have a simple campaign message.
“My greatest desire is to uplift, to get our nation out of decline,” Meloni told Reuters in a recent interview.
Brothers of Italy has its roots in neo-fascism after 1945. As a teenager, Meloni was a far-right activist who praised the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. He says she has changed.
«When the electoral campaign opens, the fascist alarm goes off. As you can tell, it’s pretty ridiculous to retrieve videos of what I was thinking when I was 15, 16 or 17, “Meloni said.
Meloni has seen a sixfold increase in support for his party since the last election.
“Part of it is his political platform, his socially conservative views, his economic views, which are also quite social in terms of, for example, increasing pensions or social benefits,” the official said. analyst Luigi Scazzieri of the Center for European Reform. .
“But this is also largely due to his personal charm. And I would cite here, for example, the way of speaking about him, which is very simple. He is very effective in connecting with traditional voters, ”added Scazzieri. “Finally, she also benefits from not having been close to the government for the past 10 years, and therefore she can credibly claim to represent something new.”
This is not the case with its likely coalition partners.
Among the coalition partners is Matteo Salvini, an outspoken populist former Minister of the Interior and leader of the League. While in government, he oversaw the crackdown on migrants arriving on Italy’s southern shores from North Africa.
He is currently on trial for kidnapping following a 2019 incident in which he is accused of preventing more than 100 migrants rescued from a charity ship from disembarking in Italian ports, which he denies. Salvini has pledged to further tighten border controls if his party returns to the government.
Veteran politician Silvio Berlusconi, who turns 86 four days after the elections, will also join the right-wing coalition as the leader of Forza Italia. He was removed from office 10 years ago after a sex scandal and was stripped of his Senate seat in 2013 over a tax evasion case. He survived major heart surgery and prostate cancer. In 2021, he nearly died from COVID-19.
During the election campaign, the three members of the likely right-wing coalition launched attacks on the European Union and pledged to defend Italy’s national interests in Brussels.
The European Union fears Italy could become a political headache, Scazzieri said. The fears are partly due to the “state of the Italian economy, the fact that its public debt exceeds 150% of GDP,” she said. “There are also concerns about Meloni’s background in the post-fascist Italian social movement, whether he might have a very authoritarian streak, for example, whether Italy might become more like Hungary and Poland. “
However, said Scazzieri, EU fears may be unfounded.
“If you read the coalition platform, it is quite clear that they have tried to present a very moderate face. They made it clear that this is a government that will live up to its obligations in the EU, the euro and NATO, “he told VOA.” The reality is that Italy cannot afford a confrontation with the EU at because of the relatively weak state of its economy “.
In the past, Italy’s far right has had close ties with Moscow. However, Meloni has repeatedly declared his support for Ukraine.
“Our position in the West is very clear, as we have shown once again by condemning – no ifs and buts – Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine and by helping the opposition to strengthen Italy’s position in the European and international forums, ”Meloni said. she said in a video of the campaign on August 10.
For many Italians, the economy, employment and rising cost of living are the main concerns. Food banks are reporting a sharp increase in the number of people who need help just to survive.
In southern Italy, the economic outlook has long lagged behind the richer north. Antonio Mela, a retired bartender from the Campania city of Salerno, began visiting the local canteen run by the Catholic charity Caritas after food prices have soared in recent months.
“I have a very small pension. I pay the rent, the electricity bill and then I have nothing more to eat. This is the situation, “Mela told Agence France-Presse.
The centrist coalition led by former prime minister Enrico Letta is about 15% behind in the polls. The bloc insists it can still win.
The government that will emerge from Sunday’s vote will be the 70th Italian administration since 1945. Many observers say that the coalition led by Meloni is already showing signs of political instability and that Italy could soon face another election.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.
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