ROME: Italian voters rewarded Giorgia Meloni’s eurosceptic party with neo-fascist roots, propelling the country into what would likely be its first far-right government since World War II, based on Monday’s partial results from the parliamentary elections.
In a victory speech, far-right Italian leader Giorgia Meloni struck a subdued tone after projections based on votes counted at around two-thirds of polling stations showed her Brothers of Italy party ahead of others candidates in Sunday’s ballot.
“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 (of this country),” Meloni told the headquarters of his party in Rome. .
“Italy chose us,” she said. “We will not betray (the country) like we never have.”
Forming a ruling coalition, with the help of Meloni’s right-wing and center-right allies, could take weeks. If Meloni, 45, is successful, she would be the first woman to serve as the country’s prime minister.
The mandate to try to form a government is given by the Italian president after consulting the party leaders.
Meanwhile, former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, whose government collapsed two months ago, remains in a watchdog role.
Differences between potential partners in Meloni’s coalition could loom.
She strongly supported the supply of weapons to Ukraine to defend against the Russian invasion. By contrast, the League’s right-wing leader Matteo Salvini, who before the war was a fervent admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, expressed concern that Western sanctions would end up harming Italy’s economic interests more than to those of Russia.
Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, another longtime admirer of Putin, said his inclusion in the coalition of a centre-right bloc would ensure that Italy remained firmly rooted in the European Union and one of its most trusted members.
As Italian households and businesses grapple with impossibly high energy bills as winter approaches, Meloni opposed Salvini’s push to inflate Italy’s already indebted tens of billions of euros for energy aid.
What kind of government the eurozone’s third-largest economy might have was being watched closely in Europe, given Meloni’s criticism of “Brussels bureaucrats” and his ties to other right-wing leaders. She recently defended Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after the European Commission recommended suspending billions of euros in funding to Hungary due to concerns about democratic backsliding and possible mismanagement of EU money. .
After opinion polls approaching the vote indicated she would be heading for victory, Meloni began to tone down her message of “God, Fatherland and Family” in an apparent attempt to reassure the European Union and other international partners, worried about Euro-skepticism.
“Now is the time to be responsible,” Meloni said, appearing live on television and describing the situation in Italy and the European Union as “particularly complex.”
She promised more detailed comments later on Monday. In her campaign, she criticized European Union officials for being too bureaucratic and promising to protect Italy’s national interests if they conflict with EU policies.
Projections based on votes counted at nearly two-thirds of polling stations in Sunday’s ballot indicated that Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party would win around 25.7% of the vote.
That compared to some 19.3% of the closest challenger, the centre-left Democratic Party of former Prime Minister Enrico Letta. Salvini’s League is expected to win 8.6% of the vote, about half of what it garnered in the last election in 2018. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party looked set to win 8%.
Meloni’s meteoric rise to the European Union’s third-largest economy comes at a critical time, when much of the continent is under the weight of rising energy bills, a fallout from the war in Ukraine, and the determination of the West to stand united against Russian aggression is being tested. In the last elections, in 2018, Meloni’s party won 4.4%.
Other eurosceptic politicians were among the first to celebrate. French politician Marine Le Pen’s party also hailed the result as a “lesson in humility” for the EU.
Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right opposition party Vox, tweeted that “millions of Europeans pin their hopes on Italy”. Meloni “showed the way to a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate on behalf of the security and prosperity of all”.
Nearly 64% of eligible voters deserted the ballot, according to the Interior Ministry. This is far below the previous record low turnout, 73% in 2018.
Italy has had three coalition governments since the last election – each led by someone who did not run for office, and that appears to have alienated many voters, pollsters say.
Meloni’s party was forged from the legacy of a neo-fascist party formed shortly after the war by those nostalgic for fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
Italy’s complex electoral law rewards campaign alliance. Meloni was backed by joining campaign forces with Salvini and Berlusconi.
The Democrats came to the vote at a distinct disadvantage because they failed to secure such a broad alliance with the left-wing populists of the 5 Star Movement, the largest party in the just-ended legislature.
Led by former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, the 5 stars seemed to be heading for a third place, with around 16% of the vote. Had they joined forces in a campaign deal with the Democrats, their coalition would have taken roughly the same percentage of Meloni’s alliance
Sunday’s election came six months earlier after Draghi’s pandemic unity government, which enjoyed great popularity among citizens, collapsed in late July after the parties of Salvini, Berlusconi and Conte declined their support in a vote of confidence.
Meloni kept his Italy Brothers party in opposition, refusing to join Draghi’s unity government or the two previous coalitions led by Conte.