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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Far-right Brothers of Italy eyes historic victory as Italy votes

Polls opened and Italians began voting on Sunday morning in an election expected to result in the country's first far-right government since World War II, bringing eurosceptic populists to the heart of Europe.

Far-right Brothers of Italy eyes historic victory as Italy votes
Voters wait at a polling station in Rome on Sunday. Elections are expected to hand a landslide win to the right-wing coalition. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

The Brothers of Italy party, led by one-time Mussolini supporter Giorgia Meloni, is leading opinion polls and looks set to take office in a coalition with the far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia parties.

Meloni, 45, who has campaigned on a motto of “God, country, family”, is hoping to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

Turnout was around 19 percent by 12pm, according to the interior ministry, in line with the last elections in 2018, as large queues were reported outside voting stations in some areas.

“I’m playing to win, not just to take part,” Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing League, told reporters as he went to cast his ballot.

League party leader Matteo Salvini pictured after casting his vote at a polling station in Milan on September 25, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“I can’t wait to come back from tomorrow as part of the government of this extraordinary country,” he added.

President Sergio Mattarella and Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, also voted early Sunday. Polls close at 11pm local time.

Many voters are expected to pick Meloni, “the novelty, the only leader the Italians have not yet tried”, Wolfango Piccoli of the Teneo consultancy told AFP.

Leader of Italian centre-left Democratic Party Enrico Letta after casting his vote in Rome.Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Brussels and the markets are watching closely, amid concern that Italy, a founding member of the European Union, may be the latest member to veer hard right less than two weeks after far-right success in elections in Sweden.

Meloni has dedicated her campaign to trying to prove she is ready despite her party never before being in power.

Brothers of Italy, which has roots in the post-fascist movement founded by supporters of dictator Benito Mussolini, pocketed just four percent of the vote during the last elections in 2018.

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Meloni now presents her views as more moderate, notably abandoning her calls for Italy to leave the EU’s single currency – though backing Hungary in its rule of law battles with Brussels.

Her coalition wants to renegotiate the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund, arguing that the almost 200 billion euros Italy is set to receive should take into account the energy crisis aggravated by the Ukraine war.

But “Italy cannot afford to be deprived of these sums”, political sociologist Marc Lazar told AFP, which means Meloni actually has “very limited room for manoeuvre”.

The funds are tied to a series of reforms only just begun by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who called snap elections in July after his national unity coalition collapsed.

Despite her euroscepticism, Meloni claims she strongly supports the EU’s sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, although her allies are another matter.

Berlusconi, the billionaire former premier who has long been friends with Vladimir Putin, faced an outcry this week after defending the Russian president’s war in Ukraine.

Matteo Salvini, Silvio Berlusconi and Giorgia Meloni at an election rally.

Meloni’s right-wing coalition includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigrant League and Forza Italia, led by former premier Silvio Berlusconi. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Meloni also rails against what she calls “LGBT lobbies” and “the violence of Islam” and has often promoted a far-right conspiracy theory claiming “the left” wants to replace Italians with “immigrants”.

The centre-left Democratic Party, led by former prime minister Enrico Letta, says Meloni is a danger to democracy.

READ ALSO: Is Brothers of Italy a ‘far right’ party?

It also claims her government would pose a serious risk to hard-won rights such as abortion and will ignore global warming, with Italy being on the front line of the climate emergency.

On the economy, Meloni’s coalition pledges to cut taxes while increasing social spending, regardless of the cost. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, they want the EU’s rules on public spending amended.

But with no indication of how the parties intend to cover the costs of such policies, markets are wary of their likely victory.

The last opinion polls two weeks before election day suggested one in four voters were backing Meloni.

However, around 20 percent of voters remain undecided, and there are signs she may end up with a smaller majority in parliament than expected.

In particular, support appears to be growing for the populist Five Star Movement in the poor south.

The next government is unlikely to take office before the second half of October, and despite pledges from Meloni and Salvini to serve five years, history suggests they may struggle.

Italian politics are notoriously unstable. The country has had 67 governments since 1946.

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POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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