Meloni holds first rally as Italy’s election campaign kicks off

Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni on Tuesday began her campaign to become Italy's first female prime minister in September elections, asking: ‘I'm ready - are you?’

Meloni holds first rally as Italy’s election campaign kicks off
Giorgia Meloni addresses supporters at a rally on August 23rd, 2022. Meloni is expected to become Italy’s next prime minister in September elections. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Meloni addressed thousands of supporters in the port city of Ancona at the first rally for her Brothers of Italy party, with just over one month to go until the September 25th vote.

Since the election date was set, opinion polls have consistently put Meloni on course to become Italy’s first female prime minister as well as the first from a post-fascist political party.

READ ALSO: Who is Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s likely next prime minister?

The 45-year-old has sought to distance her party from its roots – though she was once at the heart of Italy’s post-fascist movement, Meloni now presents herself as a straight-talking “Christian mother”.

During a nearly hour-long speech on Tuesday, she railed against the European Union, globalisation, pandemic health measures and mass migration, vowing to “liberate this nation”.

In the 2018 elections, Brothers of Italy secured just over four percent of the vote, but is now regularly polling at 24 percent, and Meloni is pitching herself as ready to rule.

The snap vote was called in late July after Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s coalition government collapsed, but with most of Italy on holiday, Meloni has so far conducted her campaign on social media.

At her first major rally, she was introduced by Francesco Acquaroli, the Brothers of Italy president of the Marche region of which Ancona is the capital.

READ ALSO: What election promises have Italy’s political parties made so far?

Party supporters at the Fratelli d’Italia electoral campaign launch rally in Ancona, central Italy, on August 23, 2022. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

He was at the centre of a controversy in 2019 after attending a dinner celebrating Benito Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome, which marked the beginning of fascist rule in Italy.

Meloni has insisted fascism is in the party’s past, while advocating a hard-right programme, from a naval blockade to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, to an “Italians first” mantra.

At the rally, she also hit back at criticism after she shared a video from a news website purportedly showing the rape of a Ukrainian woman by an asylum seeker in the northern town of Piacenza.

It was later removed by social networks for violating their terms, and Meloni’s rivals accused her of using the attack for political gain – but she said was simply “showing solidarity” with the victim, insisting that as a woman, she was “very attentive” to such issues.

READ ALSO: Why does Italy have so many political parties?

Meloni stands out in the heavily male-dominated world of Italian politics, and supporters welcome the prospect of a female prime minister.

“She’s a woman, finally a woman, and a real person who doesn’t speak like a politician – when you ask her a question, she responds, even if you don’t like her,” said Dora, a sixty-something visiting from Monza, in the north of Italy.

Paolo Berardi, a 50-something labourer from nearby Jesi, said: “She’s a straightforward, nice person and she has clear ideas for us for the future.”

He said he used to vote for Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigrant League, but switched his support two years ago, explaining: “Let’s try a change.”

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Italian PM Meloni refuses to back down on reporter ‘defamation’ trial

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Tuesday she will not withdraw her defamation suit against anti-mafia reporter Roberto Saviano, despite growing criticism that her position of power might skew the trial in her favour.

Italian PM Meloni refuses to back down on reporter 'defamation' trial

On Tuesday, the hard-right leader told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that she was confident the case would be treated with the necessary “impartiality”.

Meloni sued anti-mafia reporter Saviano for alleged defamation after he called her a “bastard” in a 2020 televised outburst over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but took office last month after an electoral campaign that promised to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the trial, which opened earlier in November, to be scrapped.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia reporter on trial for ‘defaming’ Italy’s far-right PM

“I don’t understand the request to withdraw the complaint on the pretext that I am now prime minister,” Meloni said.

“I believe that all this will be treated with impartiality, considering the separation of powers.”

She also added: “I am simply asking the court where the line is between the legitimate right to criticise, gratuitous insult and defamation.”

Saviano, best known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

The case dates back to December 2020 when Saviano was asked on a political TV chat show for a comment on the death of a six-month-old baby from Guinea in a shipwreck.

On the occasion, he railed at Meloni, who in 2019 had said that charity vessels which rescue migrants “should be sunk”.

Saviano is not the only journalist Meloni is taking to trial. One of the country’s best-known investigative reporters, Emiliano Fittipaldi, said last week the prime minister had sued him for defamation.

READ ALSO: Italian PM Meloni takes another investigative reporter to court

That trial is set to start in 2024.

Watchdogs say such trials are symbolic of a culture in Italy in which public figures intimidate reporters with repeated lawsuits, threatening the erosion of a free press.