Thu | Dec 8, 2022

Giorgia Meloni likely to become first female PM as Italy shifts to the right

Published:Monday | September 26, 2022 | 7:21 AM
Far-Right party Brothers of Italy's leader Giorgia Meloni shows a placard reading in Italian "Thank you Italy" at her party's electoral headquarters in Rome, Sunday, September 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

ROME (AP) — A party with neo-fascist roots, the Brothers of Italy, won the most votes in Italy's national elections, looking set to deliver the country's first far-right-led government since World War II and make its leader, Giorgia Meloni, Italy's first woman premier, near-final results showed Monday.

Italy's lurch to the far right immediately shifted Europe's geopolitics, placing a euroskeptic party in position to lead a founding member of the European Union and its third-largest economy. Right-wing leaders across Europe immediately hailed Meloni's victory and her party's meteoric rise as sending a historic message to Brussels, while Italy's left warned of “dark days” ahead and vowed to keep Italy in the heart of Europe.

Near-final results showed the center-right coalition netting some 44% of the parliamentary vote, with Meloni's Brothers of Italy snatching some 26%. Her coalition partners divided up the remainder, with the anti-immigrant League of Matteo Salvini winning 9% and the more moderate Forza Italia of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi taking around 8%.

The center-left Democratic Party and its allies had around 26%, while the 5-Star Movement — which had been the biggest vote-getter in 2018 Parliamentary elections — saw its share of the vote halved to some 15% this time around.

Turnout was a historic low 64%. Pollsters suggested voters stayed home in protest, disenchanted by the backroom deals that had created the last three governments.

Meloni, whose party traces its origins to the postwar, neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, tried to sound a unifying tone in a victory speech early Monday, noting that Italians had finally been able to determine their leaders.

“If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone, we will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people,” Meloni said. “Italy chose us. We will not betray it as we never have.”

While the center-right was the clear winner, the formation of a government is still weeks away and will involve consultations among party leaders and with President Sergio Mattarella. In the meantime, outgoing Premier Mario Draghi remains in a caretaker role.

The elections, which took place some six months early after Draghi's government collapsed, came at a crucial time for Europe as it faces Russia's war in Ukraine and the related soaring energy costs that have hit ordinary Italian pocketbooks as well as industry.

A Meloni-led government is largely expected to follow Italy's current foreign policy, including her pro-NATO stance and strong support for supplying Ukraine with weapons to defend against Russia's invasion, even as her coalition allies stake a slightly different tone.

Both Berlusconi and Salvini have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While both have distanced themselves from his invasion, Salvini has warned that sanctions against Moscow are hurting Italian industry, and even Berlusconi has excused Putin's invasion as foisted on him by pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbas.

A bigger shift and one likely to cause friction with European powers is likely to come over migration. Meloni has called for a naval blockade to prevent migrant boats from leaving North African shores, and has proposed screening potential asylum-seekers in Africa, before they set out on smugglers' boats to Europe.

Salvini made clear he wants the League to return to the interior ministry, where as minister he imposed a tough anti-migrant policy. But he may face an internal leadership challenge after the League suffered an abysmal result of under 10%, with Meloni's party outperforming it in its northeastern stronghold.

Salvini acknowledged the League was punished for its governing alliances with the 5-Stars and then Draghi, but said: “It's a good day for Italy because it has five years of stability ahead of it.”

On relations with the European Union, analysts note that for all her euroskeptic rhetoric, Meloni moderated her message during the campaign and has little room to maneuver given the economic windfall Italy is receiving from Brussels in coronavirus recovery funds. Italy secured some 191.5 billion euros, the biggest chunk of the EU's 750 billion-euro recovery package, and is bound by certain reform and investment milestones it must hit to receive it all.

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