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The radical right wins the Italian elections with Meloni at the helm

The visible face of the post-fascist Fratelli d'Italia (FdI) wins more than 26% of the vote and is poised to take the Palazzo Chigi
Giorgia Meloni

PHOTO/FdI  -   Fratelli d'Italia leader and founder Giorgia Meloni at a campaign rally

There were no surprises. The polls on Sunday confirmed the projections and gave a resounding victory to the right-wing coalition led by the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia, FdI), the post-fascist formation led by the woman of the moment, Giorgia Meloni. With the backing of the incendiary Matteo Salvini's League and the immortal Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, and largely favoured by Italy's controversial electoral law, the Rosatellum, the radical bloc has seven points more than in 2018 and over 44% of the vote. But it is still a long way from reaching the number of ballots needed to reform the constitution, and will have to reach a pact with other parties to do so. 

The bloc has been labelled in many ways, from extreme right-wing to post-fascist to national populist. The experts do not quite agree, but there is some unanimity that it represents a historic break in Italy's chaotic politics. 

The big winner was Giorgia Meloni with 26% of the vote. She has increased sixfold the result obtained in the last elections four years ago. Not only that, but she has almost 10 percentage points more than her three coalition partners combined, including in the equation the fourth link in the chain, former minister Maurizio Lupi, leader of Noi Moderati (We Moderates). 

Victory is hers. That is why, as long as the octogenarian President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella gives his approval, as everything seems to indicate, she should be the one chosen to form the government and start the legislature. Should events unfold in this way, Meloni would become the first woman to preside over the Council of Ministers in the history of the country, but also the first political representative linked to the post-fascist movement.

Giorgia Meloni
PHOTO/FdI  -   Fratelli d'Italia leader and founder Giorgia Meloni at a campaign rally

On paper, no political leader has been so far to the right since the dictator Benito Mussolini. Meloni, in fact, has vindicated his figure in the past. 

With the leader and founder of Fratelli d'Italia in Palazzo Chigi, many see the republican order built on the foundations of anti-fascism as in danger. In the final stretch of her campaign, she has revived a more combative rhetoric, but the line in which she has been expressing herself has been one of containment rather than belligerence. She took victory for granted, although the results have exceeded expectations. First, because she has all the cards to govern. Then, because she has absorbed her partner and main rival, Matteo Salvini. The populist's collapse at the polls calls into question his leadership of the League, and some voices in the party have demanded his resignation. 

The supposed unity in the right-wing bloc, a heterogeneous convergence based more on the electoral than the ideological level -something that will give rise to future disagreements-, has contrasted with the visible division in the centre-left bloc. Fragmented into a myriad of candidacies and coalitions, the parties of this spectrum have handed victory to their adversaries. There was little hope beyond the Democratic Party (PD) of former Prime Minister Enrico Letta, which seemed to be content with not suffering an electoral thrashing. They improved their results with more than 19 per cent of the vote, but the Social Democrats showed no ambition and wrote the party off from minute one. 

Letta, an advocate of the continuation of Mario Draghi's policies, has announced that he will step down as party leader after the next congress. 

The populist Five Star Movement (M5S), created almost a decade ago by the comedian Beppe Grillo and currently supported by former prime minister Guiseppe Conte, has been a surprise, amassing more than 15% of the vote. By gaining strength in the south of the country and exploiting the strong discontent in the region, Conte's M5S has managed to overcome the internal divisions that led to the fall of Draghi's government and the split led by the still foreign minister, Luigi di Maio, who, incidentally, did not even win his own seat at the head of his Civic Commitment formation in his attack on the M5S candidate.

Enrico Letta
PHOTO/PD  -   The Secretary General of the Democratic Party (PD), Enrico Letta

The trail continues with the so-called Third Pole, the coalition of former prime minister Matteo Renzi - considered by many to be the initiator of Italy's spiral of political instability - and former minister Carlo Calenda. They have just under 8% of the vote, but still lag behind Salvini and Berlusconi. 

The octogenarian tycoon, a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin as demonstrated in a recent television interview in which he justified Russia's aggression in Ukraine, has been elected senator almost a decade after being expelled from the upper house for tax fraud. It will be Il Cavaliere's last dance since his famous "la discesa in campo" speech in 1994, when he made the leap into the political arena. In January, he tried unsuccessfully to ascend to the presidency of the Republic. 

High abstention

Another key factor, perhaps the most important in terms of its ramifications, was the high abstention rate, close to 30%, according to data published by the Ministry of the Interior. This is the highest rate in the country's history, a fact that reflects the widespread weariness of Italian society with its political class and, why not, with the system. Meloni's announced victory and, above all, the lack of solid alternatives lowered the decibels of a rather discreet campaign. The elections aroused more expectation outside than inside. 

In figures, turnout has plummeted from 90.6% in 1979 to 72.9% in 2018. This time, the percentage is no higher than 64%. A devastating figure that has set off alarm bells because, moreover, Italians had not gone to the polls for five years.

Guiseppe Conte
PHOTO/M5S  -   The visible face of the populist Five Star Movement, Giuseppe Conte, during a campaign rally

This vote brings to an end a turbulent legislature that has seen three successive governments. First, Conte I, made up of the M5S and the League. Then, Conte II, made up of the M5S and the PD. Finally, the cabinet of the former president of the European Central Bank (ECB) and eventual saviour of the euro, Mario Draghi, a consensus figure promoted by the powers that be to lead the country in the midst of the pandemic crisis. 

Draghi's executive pushed through a series of measures to contain the crisis, which intensified after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and received the backing of all political formations with the notable exception of Giorgia Meloni's FdI, which was able to capitalise on its opposition role. The internal boycott by the M5S caused Draghi's unity government to falter and eventually collapse. 

In the last decade, Italy has seen as many as six prime ministers parade through Palazzo Chigi. Since the end of the Second World War, 77 years ago, up to 70 governments have been formed, a fact that exposes the strong political instability that shakes the transalpine country. The rate is almost one government per year. That is why Meloni's hypothetical cabinet is not expected to last, especially given the huge differences in the political traditions of the members of the right-wing coalition. The separatist League, the liberal Forza Italia and the FdI, which emerged from the embers of the post-fascist MSI.

@silvio.berlusconi Ciao ragazzi, eccomi qua. Vi do il benvenuto sul mio canale ufficiale #Tiktok per parlare dei temi che più stanno a cuore a Forza Italia e al sottoscritto e che vi riguardano da vicino: parleremo e discuteremo del vostro #futuro Vi racconterò di come vogliamo rendere l'#Italia un Paese che possa darvi nuove opportunità e la possibilità di realizzare i vostri sogni. Ci rivediamo presto su TikTok ! #silvioberlusconi #berlusconi #elezioni #forzaitalia🇮🇹💪❤️ #politica #giovani ♬ suono originale - Silvio Berlusconi

All in all, the right-wing bloc is not far from reaching the majority needed to reform the Magna Carta. Among Meloni's proposals, detailed during the campaign, is that of transforming Italy's constitutional framework into that of a semi-presidential republic. That is the recipe for leaving behind the marked instability. 

The renowned journalist Ezio Mauro of the centre-left daily La Reppublica predicts that the constitution will be reformed "through the Trojan horse of presidentialism, a perfect tool for populist preaching that wants identification between the leader and the people". "The whole institutional landscape, with its delicate balances, will have to adapt to the hierarchy of powers," Mauro argues. 

Change in foreign policy? 

The imminent arrival of Giorgia Meloni to the presidency of the Council of Ministers in Italy promises to alter the dynamics of alliances established under the Draghi government, which restored Rome to a predominant role on the international stage. She promises to do so in many directions. Firstly, in relation to the European Union, an institution with which Meloni has shown her scepticism. The conservative leader is committed to a Europe of nations, a concept previously outlined by Le Pen, Orbán or Geert Wilders, many of her European partners, who, by the way, have congratulated her on her victory.

Giorgia Meloni
PHOTO/FdI  -   Fratelli d'Italia leader and founder Giorgia Meloni at a campaign rally

Relations with Brussels will be convulsive, but, beyond abandoning the Franco-German axis so sought after by Draghi, with the corresponding alignment with the theses of Hungary or Poland, analysts do not expect Meloni to open major rifts within the EU-27 given the delicate geopolitical context, despite her nature and that of her partners. It is paradoxical, to say the least, that it is Berlusconi's party that will be responsible for calming the coalition's waters. But Italy will, in theory, continue to support Ukraine and within the NATO framework. 

In her autobiography Io sono Giorgia. Le mie radici le mie idee (I am Giorgia. My roots, my ideas, Rizzoli, 2021), the visible face of Fratelli d'Italia recounts her experience of 10 "unforgettable" days in the Algerian Tindouf camps and shows her sympathy for the Sahrawi cause. "There I understood what it means to truly love a land, to feel part of it and to decide to defend it at all costs", she said. Perhaps this is the approach with which Meloni looks at Italy's relations in the Maghreb.