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Italy set to elect most right-wing regime since WW II

Alvise Armellini and Rodolfo Fabbri

Rome | The leaders of Italy’s right-wing alliance put on a show of unity on Thursday (Friday AEST) and promised a new era of stable government at a closing rally before Sunday’s election, which they are on course to win.

Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy (FdI), Matteo Salvini of the League and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, 85, of Forza Italia appeared before thousands of supporters in Rome.

From left, Matteo Salvini, Silvio Berlusconi and Giorgia Meloni during a final campaign rally in Rome. Bloomberg

They spoke from a stage bearing the slogan “Together, for Italy” in their first joint event in a campaign in which they have led in polls but also quarrelled over foreign and economic policy.

“We will build a solid, cohesive government with a strong popular mandate, which will remain in power for five years,” said Ms Meloni, who could become Italy’s first female premier and the most right-wing leader since World War II.

Ms Meloni, whose party traces its roots to post-fascism but now presents itself as a mainstream conservative force, was playing to a home crowd dominated by FdI fans.

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“I will vote for Meloni because I believe that immigration and taxes are the main issues that need to be addressed,” said 21-year-old Margherita Conti. “But I will also do it because I am happy that we will have a female prime minister and that it will be Giorgia.”

Big shoes to fill

If the tough-talking Ms Meloni succeeds, she will face an array of daunting challenges, including soaring energy costs, a suffocating debt mountain, a possible recession and an increasingly dangerous conflict in Ukraine.

The 45-year-old from Rome, who is promising a crackdown on immigration and a cut in taxes, will also have big shoes to fill.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the widely respected former head of the European Central Bank, was seen as a reassuring figure by international investors, but he resigned in July after a mutiny within his national unity government.

Unlike every other major party chief, Ms Meloni refused to join Mr Draghi’s coalition and instead enjoyed a boom in popularity from the opposition benches, where she ably denounced the painful measures the government took to tackle the COVID-19 crisis.

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“There is this idea in Italy that we have tried everyone else, so let’s try her now,” said Wolfango Piccoli, the co-president of political risk consultancy Teneo.

“Meloni is a great communicator but faces significant economic constraints and doesn’t have much experience, so she will probably not enjoy a long honeymoon,” he added.

She has pledged prudent fiscal policies and to maintain unity with the European Union and NATO partners in supporting Ukraine against Russia. But this has caused friction with allies.

Mr Salvini, a past admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has openly criticised sanctions on Moscow, though he sees eye-to-eye with Ms Meloni on tough migration and border policies.

The League leader has also questioned Ms Meloni’s fiscal caution, calling for an extra €30 billion ($44.6 billion) in public borrowing to fund measures against the energy crisis.

“The first act of the new government ... will be an energy decree to immediately block increases in electricity and gas bills,” he said.

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Mr Berlusconi, who rarely appears in public because of frail health, was the first to speak at the rally. He appeared to have trouble walking and was helped around by Mr Salvini and others.

“We are here, and we are the country’s real majority,” he said.

The election campaign has been fought in the shadows of a sweltering summer, with little sign of much voter interest and no televised debate between the various party leaders.

Before an embargo on polls came into force on September 10, the right-wing bloc was predicted to win about 46 per cent of the vote, giving it a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament.

Pollsters still expect a right-wing victory on Sunday, but have warned that a surge in support for the left-leaning Five Star Movement (M5S), especially in the poorer south, might dent their lead.

The main rival to Ms Meloni’s bloc is a centre-left coalition, led by the Democratic Party, which two weeks ago polled under 30 per cent; the M5S was on about 13 per cent and the centrist Azione/Italia Viva bloc had about 7 per cent.

Reuters

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  • World elections
  • Italy
  • Silvio Berlusconi
  • Mario Draghi
  • European Central Bank

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