April 21, 2024

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Italy turns right as voters reward Meloni’s party

Italy turns right as voters reward Meloni's party

Rome (AFP) – A party with neo-fascist roots won the largest number of votes in Italy’s national elections, paving the way on Monday for talks to form the country’s first far-right-led government since World War Two, with Georgia Meloni at the helm. As the first woman in Italy.

Italy’s tilt toward the far right has instantly transformed Europe’s geopolitics, putting the euro-skeptic’s far-right Italian fraternity in a position to lead a founding member of the European Union and its third-largest economy. The shift in Italy follows a similar right-wing victory in Sweden and recent gains by the far right in France and Spain.

Right-wing leaders across Europe immediately hailed the 45-year-old Meloni’s victory as sending a historic nationalist message to Brussels, while the Italian left warned of “dark days” ahead and vowed to keep Italy at the heart of Europe.

Monday’s near-final results showed the center-right coalition secured 44% of the parliamentary vote, with Brother of Italy’s Meloni winning 26% in its biggest win in a decade-long meteoric rise. Its coalition partners divided the remaining percentage, with the anti-immigration League led by Matteo Salvini winning 9% and the more moderate Forza Italia party headed by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi winning about 8% of the vote.

The center-left Democratic Party and its allies had about 26% of support, while the populist 5-Star Movement – which was the largest vote-taker in the 2018 parliamentary elections – saw its vote share halved to 15% this time.

Turnout has been a historically low 64%. Polls suggested voters stayed home in protest, disappointed with the back-to-back deals that established the last three governments and the mix of parties in Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s outgoing national unity government.

Meloni, whose party traces its origins to the post-war Italian neo-fascist social movementtried to sound a unifying tone in his victory speech early Monday, noting that the Italians had finally managed to identify their leaders.

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If we are called to rule this nation, we will do so for all. “We will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people,” Meloni said. “Italy chose us. We will not betray him.”

While the center-right was the clear winner, the formation of the government is still weeks away and will involve consultations between party leaders and with President Sergio Mattarella. In the meantime, Draghi is still in a temporary role.

The election, which took place six months before the collapse of the Draghi government, came at a critical time for Europe as it faces the Russian war in Ukraine and related high energy costs that have affected ordinary Italians as well as industry.

A Meloni-led government is largely expected to follow Italy’s current foreign policy, including its pro-NATO stance and strong support for supplying Ukraine with weapons to defend itself against a Russian invasion, even as its coalition allies take a different tone.

Both Berlusconi and Salvini have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. While both distanced themselves from their invasion of Ukraine, Salvini warned that EU sanctions against Moscow were hurting Italian industry. Even Berlusconi excused Putin’s invasion as an event imposed on him by pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbass.

A larger shift is likely to come and is likely to cause friction with other EU countries due to immigration. Meloni called for a naval blockade to prevent migrant boats from leaving North African shores, and suggested that potential asylum seekers be screened in Africa, not Europe.

Salvini has made it clear that he wants the League to regain the position of interior minister, where he once imposed a strict policy against immigrants. But he could face an internal leadership challenge after the League suffered a shocking result of less than 10%, with Meloni’s party outperforming the League even in its stronghold in the Northeast.

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Salvini admitted that the league had been punished for its ruling alliances with 5-star and then Draghi, but said after the vote: “It’s a good day for Italy because it has five years of stability.”

Regarding relations with the European Union, analysts point out that despite her Euro-skeptical rhetoric, Meloni has softened her message during the campaign and has no room for maneuver, given the sudden economic gains Italy is receiving from Brussels in the coronavirus recovery funds. Italy got 191.5 billion euros, the largest part of the 750 billion euros European recovery package, and is bound by some of the reform and investment milestones it must make to get it all.

However, Meloni criticized the EU’s recent recommendation to suspend 7.5 billion euros in funding for Hungary over fears of democratic backsliding, and defended authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as an elected leader in a democratic system.

Urban’s political director, Balaz Urban, was among the first to congratulate Meloni. “In these difficult times, we need more than ever friends who share a common vision and approach to Europe’s challenges,” he wrote on Twitter.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen also praised Meloni for “resisting the threats of the anti-democratic and arrogant European Union”.

Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right opposition Vox party, tweeted that Meloni “has shown the way for a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate in the interest of everyone’s security and prosperity”.

Meloni is the chair of the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists in the European Parliament, which brings together her brethren in Italy, the Polish nationalist Law and Justice party, the far-right Vox in Spain, and the right-wing Swedish Democrats, which has just won large numbers there. On the platform of suppressing crime and reducing immigration.

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“The trend that appeared two weeks ago in Sweden was confirmed in Italy,” Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta admitted, calling Monday a “sad day for Italy and Europe.”

“We expect dark days. We have struggled in every way to avoid this outcome,” Letta said at a sad press conference. While acknowledging that the future of the party required reflection, he vowed: “(The Democratic Party) will not allow Italy to leave the heart of Europe.”

Thomas Christiansen, professor of political science at Lewis University in Rome and executive editor of the Journal of European Integration, noted that Italy has a tradition of pursuing a coherent European and foreign policy greater than the interests of individual parties.

“Whatever Meloni is going to do, it must be overseen by its coalition partners, and indeed with the well-established consensus of Italian foreign policy,” Christiansen said.

Meloni proudly promotes her roots as a fighter In the Italian neo-fascist social movement, or MSI, which formed in the aftermath of World War II with the remnants of Mussolini’s fascist supporters. Meloni joined in 1992 when he was 15 years old.

During the campaign, Meloni had to respond After Democrats used her party’s assets to portray Meloni as a threat to democracy.

“The Italian right has handed Fascism into history for decades now, and it unequivocally condemns the suppression of democracy and shameful anti-Jewish laws,” she said in her campaign video in multiple languages.


Colin Barry contributed from Milan.