Italian election: Alliance led by far-right party set to win majority in parliament, exit polls show

Giorgia Meloni could become Italy’s first female prime minister following general election

A right-wing alliance led by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party looks set to win a majority in the next parliament, exit polls said on Sunday after voting ended in an Italian national election.

An exit poll for state broadcaster RAI said the bloc of conservative parties, that also includes Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, won between 41 and 45 per cent, enough to guarantee control of both houses of parliament.

Italy’s electoral law favours groups that manage to create pre-ballot pacts, giving them an outsized number of seats by comparison with their vote tally. Full results are expected by early Monday.

Italians were voting in an election that was forecast to deliver the country’s most radical right-wing government since the end of the second World War, and a prime minister ready to become a model for nationalist parties across Europe.

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The Brothers of Italy is a party with neo-fascist origins.

Ms Meloni’s party had been forecast to scoop the biggest share of the votes within its coalition, meaning she could become Italy’s first female prime minister.

The coalition’s expected victory, however, raises questions about the country’s alliances in Europe as the continent enters a winter likely dominated by high energy prices and its response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. Ms Meloni has sought to send reassuring messages, but the prospect of her as prime minister is unlikely to be welcomed in Paris or Berlin.

Germany’s governing Social Democratic party warned last week that her win would be bad for European co-operation. Lars Klingbeil, the chairman of chancellor Olaf Scholz’s SPD, said Ms Meloni had aligned herself with “anti-democratic” figures such as Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán.

Earlier this month, Ms Meloni’s MEPs voted against a resolution that condemned Hungary as “a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”. Ms Meloni is also allied to Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice party, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats and Spain’s far-right Vox party.

The 45-year-old firebrand politician from Rome received an endorsement from Vox towards the end of her campaign, and in response said the two parties were linked by “mutual respect, friendship and loyalty” while hoping victory for Brothers of Italy would give Vox some thrust in Spain.

“Meloni has an ambition to represent a model not only for Italy, but for Europe – this is something new [for the right in Italy] compared with the past,” said Nadia Urbinati, a political theorist at New York’s Columbia University and the University of Bologna. “She has contacts with other conservative parties, who want a Europe with less civil rights … the model is there and so is the project.”

Mattia Diletti, a politics professor at Rome’s Sapienza University, said Ms Meloni would win thanks to her ability to be ideological but pragmatic, something that has allowed her to pip the French far-right leader, Marine Le Pen, to the post of becoming western Europe’s model for nationalism.

However, she is unlikely to rock the boat, at least at the beginning, as she wants to secure continuing flows of cash under Italy’s €191.5bnEU Covid recovery plan, the largest in the EU. Her coalition has said it is not seeking to renegotiate the plan, but would like to make changes.

“Ambiguity is the key to understanding Meloni,” Mr Diletti said. “She’s really interested in compromising with the EU on economic politics. But if the EU pushes her too much on the Italian government, she can always revert back to her safe zone as being a populist right-wing leader. She will do what she needs to do to stay in power.”

Mr Salvini’s potential return to the interior ministry will also dampen hopes for a breakthrough in the EU’s long-stalled attempt to reform its migration system by sharing asylum seekers across member states. Salvini, who has close ties with Le Pen, said he “can’t wait” to resume his policy of blocking migrant rescue ships from entering Italian ports.

Understanding far-right gains in Italy and Sweden

Listen | 00:00
Europe correspondent Naomi O'Leary talks to Hugh about forthcoming elections in Italy that look likely to return a government led by the far-right. What will that mean for the rest of Europe? They also discuss the recent victory of the far-right Sweden Democrats and the EU's ongoing dispute with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban.

On Ukraine, Ms Meloni has condemned Russia’s invasion and supported sending weapons to the war-torn country, but it remains unclear whether her government will back the eighth round of EU sanctions being discussed in Brussels. Mr Salvini has claimed sanctions were bringing Italy to its knees, although he never blocked any EU measures against Russia when in Mario Draghi’s broad coalition government, which collapsed in July.

Voting started at 7am on Sunday, and turnout stood at about 51.8 per cent by 7pm local time. The share of undecided voters was at 25 per cent before voting began, meaning the right-wing alliance might win a slimmer majority than pollsters originally suggested. A left-wing alliance led by the Democratic party is predicted to get 22-27 per cent of the vote.

Several seats in southern Italian regions, such as Puglia and Calabria, are also potentially in play after a mini-revival by the populist Five Star Movement, which regained support after promising to maintain its flagship policy, the basic income, if the party re-enters government.

There was a steady flow of voters to a booth in Esquilino, a multicultural district in Rome, on Sunday morning, but the mood was one of despondency.

“It feels as if we’re on a rudderless boat,” said Carlo Russo. “All we heard during the election campaign was an exchange of insults between the various parties rather than an exchange of ideas. And in moments of confusion such as this, people vote for the person who seems to be the strongest.”

Fausto Maccari, who runs a newspaper stand, said he won’t vote for the right but is unsure who he will back. “The choices are poor,” added Maccari, who is in his 60s. “For example, I look at Berlusconi and he reminds me of a comic character. At his age, he shouldn’t be doing politics. It would be like me, at my age, trying to be a footballer like Maradona.”

Many Italians who support Meloni are doing so because she is yet to be tried and tested in government, and are attracted by her determination and loyalty to her ideals.

“She presents herself as a capable, but not arrogant, woman,” said Ms Urbinati. “She gets things done and is dedicated, but without this masculine adrenaline that wants power at all costs.” - Reuters/Guardian