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EXPLAINED: Who’s likely to win Italy’s early elections?

With Italy's government out and snap elections on the horizon, which party is set to take power? Here's how things look at the moment.

A right-wing coalition led by Forza Italia, Fratelli d'Italia and League is predicted to win Italy's next election.
A right-wing coalition led by Forza Italia, Fratelli d'Italia and League is predicted to win Italy's next election. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.

Italy’s president on Thursday dissolved parliament and declared early elections after a failed confidence vote in Prime Minister Mario Draghi led to the collapse of the coalition government.

Voters will head to the polls on September 25th, giving enough time for parties to carry out a summer electoral campaign.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

The question everyone is asking now is: who’s likely to win that election?

Judging by the latest opinion polls, there’s just one credible answer: it’s a so-called centrodestra or ‘centre-right’ (in reality, mostly hard-right) coalition, led by the post-fascist Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia, or FdI), and the hard-right populist League.

Together the two parties are polling at almost 40 percent of the vote. With their ally Forza Italia, led by Silvio Berlusconi, they could secure 45 to 48 percent according to recent estimates.

What would this mean for Italy?

It would be a hard swerve to the right after several years of broadly centrist coalition governments.

The best-known among the three parties in this coalition is no doubt the League (formerly the Northern League), created to campaign for autonomy for Italy’s northern regions, but now fixated on opposing immigration and EU governance while demanding greater federalism.

League leader Matteo Salvini was interior minister and co-deputy prime minister between 2018 and 2019, during which time he passed a security decree that abolished Italy’s humanitarian protection residency permit (the protection was reinstated in 2020) and made it harder to get Italian citizenship.

On Thursday Salvini posted a tweet with an image of his smiling face and a migrant boat in the background, with the caption ‘Security returns, courage returns’.

“Return to defend Italian borders after the repeated failures of Lamorgese (the previous interior minister): the next interior minister will do this. What do you say friends?” the tweet reads.

But FdI is becoming increasingly prominent on the Italian political stage. The party, formed in 2012, has its roots in neo-fascism; it’s the de facto successor to the Alleanza Nazionale, which in turn was the successor to the Movimento Sociale Italiano, a neo-fascist party formed by Mussolini’s supporters after World War Two.

FdI leader Giorgia Meloni has focused her policies on protecting the traditional Italian family and increasing birth rates, with plans to provide generous benefit payments to families.

She is outspoken against same-sex marriage, and the party has a zero-tolerance policy on illegal immigration.

There are also concerns that a government made up of these parties would have a eurosceptic, pro-Russian stance.

Meloni has condemned Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and defended aid sent to Kyiv, despite her party being in opposition to Draghi’s pro-NATO government.

But League leader Matteo Salvini has long been an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, while Berlusconi, a personal friend of the Kremlin leader, has remained largely silent over the issue.

Are there any alternatives?

The polling firms YouTrend and Cattaneo Zanetto & Co recently produced an electoral outcome simulation based on three scenarios:

  • The centre-left Democratic Party (PD) running with the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), Sinistra Italiana (SI), and the Greens, but without the centrist Viva Italia and Azione/+Europa parties. 
  • PD and M5S running separately.
  • PD and M5S running with SI, the Greens, Viva Italia and Azione/+Europa.

In the first two instances, the simulation shows the centre-right coalition winning a very comfortable majority.

In the third scenario, there’s a very slim chance that a broad PD and M5S-led coalition could present an obstacle to the right-wing coalition’s path to dominance, but it would come down to just a handful of MPs and senators – and even in this case, the right still looks set to win by a small majority.

In 2020, Italians voted in favour of a constitutional reform that will bring the number of parliamentarians down from 630 to 400 and senators down from 315 to 200 in the next election.

In a scenario in which all the leftist and centrist parties band together, the simulation suggests the right-wing coalition would win 202 seats in the lower house and 99 in the upper house – not including the eight MPs and four senators that are reserved for Italians resident abroad, which would likely tip them over into an absolute majority.

If PD and M5S run separately, the polls predict that 240 parliamentarians and 122 senators would go to the right-wing bloc – almost 60 percent of the seats.

M5S and PD have worked as allies in the past, but the already uneasy relationship between the establishment PD and the populist, anti-establishment M5S has become increasingly fraught in recent weeks.

It was M5S head Giuseppe Conte’s decision to boycott a key vote on an aid bill that triggered the ultimate collapse of the Draghi government, a move that was harshly criticised by PD leader Enrico Letta.

What happens now?

If it seems close to inevitable that Italy is headed for a hard-right government, what’s less certain is who will really be in charge – and how long it might last.

At Italy’s last general election in 2018, the League won around 17 percent of the vote, while FdI received just over four percent.

But as the only major Italian party to remain in opposition since then, FdI has seen its popularity soar. The group is currently polling at around 24 percent, while the League’s support has fallen to 14 percent.

TIMELINE: What happens next in Italy’s government crisis?

As the head of the party with the largest numbers, Meloni is currently set on the path to becoming prime minister. Although Salvini has indicated he will content himself for now with another interior minister position, he has long had his eye on the same prize.

On Thursday, the Il Foglio newspaper declared the start of the ‘War of the Centre-Right’ between Meloni and Salvini.

Whether the two rivals will be able to band together with Berlusconi to form a government that manages to avoid being torn apart by power tussles and in-fighting in its first few months remains to be seen.

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Doubts rise over ‘loose cannon’ Salvini after Italy’s election

Italian anti-immigrant leader Matteo Salvini was disappointed on Monday at his party's result in general elections but pledged to work with Giorgia Meloni, who triumphed, to form a government.

Doubts rise over 'loose cannon' Salvini after Italy's election

Whether Salvini would keep his word – or survive politically long enough to do so – was not clear, after his anti-immigrant League party dropped below the 10 percent threshold at Sunday’s vote.

This was a sharp decrease after the party swept to office with 17 percent of the vote in 2018 – since when it has been eclipsed by Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy.

EXPLAINED: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

A glum Salvini, who has clashed with Meloni on a range of policies, not least her stance on Russia and the war in Ukraine, told reporters that winning just nine percent had been a blow.

It was “not a number I wanted or worked for”, he said.

Salvini added that he had “gone to bed fairly pissed off but woke up ready to go” and was now “looking on the bright side”.

Meloni “was good. We will work together for a long time”, he promised.

Leader of Italy's liberal-conservative party Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Italy's conservative party Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni and leader of Italy's far-right League party, Matteo Salvini acknowledge supporters at the end of a joint rally against the government on October 19, 2019 in Rome.

Italy’s right-wing coalition, consisting of Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, Salvini’s League and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, has promised to slash taxes and put ‘Italians first’. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

The League may now have to battle to ensure its priorities are not sidelined in Meloni’s government programme, analysts said.

And while ex-interior minister Salvini has repeatedly said he wants his former job back, it is looking increasingly unlikely to happen.

“It won’t be an easy relationship. It’s likely that (Salvini) will be given a more marginal role in the government than he wants,” Sofia Ventura, political sciences professor at Bologna University, told the foreign press association in Rome.

“The result… throws into question Matteo Salvini’s leadership” of his own party, she said, adding that there were those within the League who thought they would be better off without the “loose cannon”.

READ ALSO: Meloni, Salvini, Berlusconi: The key figures in Italy’s likely new government

He said Meloni had benefited from being the only leader to stay outside the coalition formed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi in February 2021.

For the League, being part of that administration “was not easy”, he said, but insisted “I would do it again.”

‘Dangerous when cornered’

Meloni secured around 26 percent of the vote in Sunday’s poll, putting her on course to become the first woman to serve as Italian prime minister.

She campaigned as part of a coalition including Salvini’s League and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which won around eight percent.

Italian politics is notoriously unstable, with nearly 70 governments since 1946, and there were concerns disagreements with Salvini may precipitate a fresh crisis.

Lorenzo Pregliasco, co-founder of the YouTrend polling site, said Italian party leaders proved “dangerous” when they felt cornered.

The League head “might not create any problems in the short term” but “watch out for the Salvini factor, if he survives politically as a leader”.

Salvini however said that after years of unwieldy coalitions, Italy finally had “a government chosen by its citizens, with a clear majority” in both houses of parliament.

And he hoped it could “go for at least five years straight, without changes, without upheavals, focusing on things to do”.