Italy could be about to elect its first far-right leader since Benito Mussolini as voters head to the polls on Sunday.
The Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party, led by Giorgia Meloni, is widely predicted to win the general election. Having “soared ahead” in the polls, it is now “scenting victory”, said the BBC. If the polls prove correct, the Brothers of Italy would form a coalition government with fellow right-wing parties of the League and Forza Italia.
- SEE MORE Far-right nationalists shake up Swedish election
Such a victory would make Meloni prime minister, Italy’s first female leader and the “first politician with a post-Fascist lineage to run Italy since the end of World War II,” wrote The New York Times (NYT).
Meloni and the Brothers of Italy have positioned themselves to “vacuum up the opposition vote” in the run-up to this general election, having been the only major party to stay out of the previous “unity government” of Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
But Meloni is “balancing on a high-stakes wire” in her campaign, added the NYT. She is attempting to reassure her “hard-right base” that she “hasn’t changed” while simultaneously trying to convince Italy’s more moderate voters and “international skeptics” that she is “no extremist”.
Who is Giorgia Meloni?
Born in 1977 in Rome, Meloni grew up in the “working class and left-leaning” Garbatella district of the capital, said the NYT. She was raised by her mother after they were “abandoned by her father, who sailed off to the Canary Islands,” wrote The Washington Post.
Meloni’s mother, Anna, was a “right-winger who wrote romance novels”, while her father, Francesco, was left-wing, prompting speculation that her move into politics has been “motivated in part by a desire to seek revenge on her absent father,” said the BBC.
Aged 15 she joined the neo-fascist Youth Front, part of the Italian Social Movement, before becoming student president of the National Alliance. Meloni’s rapid rise in Italian politics saw her become the youngest minister in the country’s history in 2008, aged 31, as part of Silvio Berlusconi’s government.
As “populism swept Italy in the last decade”, Meloni built a following on “harsher tones” and “worked hard to purge Fascists and build a new history”, said the NYT. She formed the Brothers of Italy party in 2012 but by 2018 was winning only 4% of the vote in that year’s general election. Since then Meloni has “turned her social media accounts into populist pasta on the wall” as she has tried to sway voters.
Radical political shift
Though she is “nearly always labeled ‘far-right’ by the international press”, Meloni routinely attests that she is “not a fascist and poses no threat to democracy”, said The Spectator. She has labeled it “a smear campaign” waged by those “well-embedded in the nerve centers of power”.
However, Meloni is “adept at both courting and distancing herself from such extremists whenever it suits her,” wrote Jamie Mackay in The Guardian. She has celebrated “’patriots’ and ‘the natural family’ while attacking ‘the LGBT lobby’ and ‘enemies of civilisation’”, he wrote.
She has “notably avoided the pitfalls of nationalist figures elsewhere”, condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin, while also voicing strong support for Nato, said The Washington Post. Though Meloni has pledged that Italy won’t take an “authoritarian turn”, her views on immigration, gay adoption, and close ties to anti-abortion groups has “sounded the alarm” on the left, warning that her “views can veer into the extreme”. For her allies, however, she represents “the radical political shift that Italy needs”, said the BBC.
Her party’s “close relationship” with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán is “particularly concerning”, wrote Mackay in The Guardian. Human rights groups are warning that she is “hoping to impose a similar authoritarian regime in Italy”.
The “flipside” of Italy’s recent “executive instability” has been the “resilience of the country’s democracy”, said the Financial Times, suggesting that it will be more difficult for populists to assume long-term control than it was in Hungary. A right-wing coalition government led by Meloni that holds a small majority will not be “able to do serious damage to Italy’s laws and society”, but the economy “hangs in the balance”, said the paper.
There’s a high chance the “coalition would break down even sooner than the average 13-month Italian government,” Mackay said, adding that it is still “hardly comforting” given that the “economic and social consequences of a Meloni administration would probably be terrible ”.