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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

EXPLAINED: Who’s who in Italy’s general election?

Want to know who the big names in Italian politics are and what they stand for ahead of the election? Here's a quick primer.

EXPLAINED: Who's who in Italy's general election?
Some of Italy's political parties - and their leaders - are much more famous than others. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

There are some names in Italian politics that have been around for so long they probably need no introduction, even if you live on the other side of the world. Silvio Berlusconi is one example that comes to mind.

But while this particularly controversial 85-year-old is now running for the Senate, and clearly has no retirement plans just yet, he’s far from the biggest name to watch in Italy’s elections on September 25th.

Italy has a large number of political parties and a complex electoral system, which means the country is often run by broad coalition governments featuring a mind-boggling number of parties, leaders, and political names that aren’t always well known beyond Italy’s borders.

This time around, the new government is at least likely to be on the less complicated side, with a coalition of ‘only’ two or three right-wing parties expected to win by a landslide.

So who are they? To help you follow the Italian election news this month, here’s a brief look at the main parties and their leaders ahead of the vote.

Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia, or FdI)

Firstly the party everyone’s talking about – but which few people outside of Italy had heard of until recently.

Brothers of Italy looks set to be the biggest winner at the upcoming election, meaning party leader Giorgia Meloni is the favourite to become Italy’s next prime minister. 

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

The once-obscure party’s popularity has soared over the past year, attracting the protest vote as it has been the only group in opposition to Mario Draghi’s national unity government.

Alternately described as a hard-right populist or post-fascist party, FdI’s ideology can be hard to pin down. But its policies are strongly nationalist and conservative.

Meloni furiously denies being a “fascist” in interviews with Italian newspapers, despite the fact her party was born out of the National Alliance, which in turn was the successor of MSI, founded in 1946 by former members of the Italian Social Republic: the last incarnation of Mussolini’s Italian Fascist regime. Meloni has herself in the past defended Mussolini, calling him a “good politician”.

In her election campaigning today, Meloni plays to traditional identity politics with her signature slogan at rallies: “I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am a Christian and you will not take that away from me.”

Brothers of Italy party leader Giorgia Meloni at an election rally in Ancona, central Italy, on August 23rd, 2022. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

FdI is running for election as part of a right-wing alliance with the League and Forza Italia (see below), and their joint election manifesto leads with a promise to enact “foreign policy focused on the protection of the national interest and the defense of the homeland”.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

While it isn’t in the manifesto, Meloni has repeatedly said on her social media accounts she wants to set up a ‘naval blockade’ to “put an end to illegal departures to Italy”.

The right-wing coalition is currently polling at around 48 percent, and is expected to win the election by a landslide – potentially forming a government with an unprecedented ‘super majority’ that would allow it to make changes to the political system itself, and therefore the constitution.

League

The right-wing populist League party, or Lega, led by Matteo Salvini, is famous for its hardline anti-immigration polices.

As well as closing ports and turning away rescue ships during his time as interior minister in 2018-2019, Salvini made Italian citizenship harder to obtain, and abolished the country’s humanitarian protection status for migrants under a so-called security decree.

Populist, nationalist politics now form the backbone of the party’s identity, but this wasn’t always the case.

For most of its life, the League was the Northern League (Lega Nord). The party began as a federation of regional separatist parties, pushing for greater autonomy for the north.

But before the 2018 general election, it changed its name and rebranded as a nationalist, nativist party, with ‘Italians first’ (Prima gli italiani) as its slogan. It apparently worked, as the party took power along with another populist party, the Five Star Movement.

League leader Matteo Salvini pictured on a campaign poster on the back of a bus in downtown Rome on September 2, 2022. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Now, the League is standing for election as part of a hard-right, nationalist coalition along with Fratelli d’Italia and Forza Italia. Salvini, who often uses religious imagery in his campaigning in an attempt to appeal to the country’s Catholic majority, is using the one-word slogan Credo (‘I believe’) on campaign posters.

As well as anti-immigration policies, their joint manifesto focuses on flat tax rates, cutting VAT, and raising pensions.

Read more about Italy’s League party here

Forza Italia (FI)

Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative party Forza Italia (the name is variously translated as ‘Come on Italy’ or ‘Forward Italy’) is running for election as part of the right-wing alliance, with Fratelli d’Italia and the League (see above).

Forza Italia is seen as the most moderate of the three, and may be the only one that could accurately be described as centre-right – though it has lost MPs who say it is becoming more hardline due to its ever-closer alliance with its coalition partners.

So what does it stand for? The party’s own constitution says it is based on “the ideals of liberal democratic, liberal Catholic, secular and reformist European traditions”.

The party is much more pro-EU than its coalition allies. It also supports close relations with both Russia – Berlusconi and Russian President Vladimir Putin are old friends – and the United States.

It’s pro-business, which is no surprise given Berlusconi’s background as a media magnate, and pushes for low tax rates for business-owners and the wealthy. It has taken a swing to the right on migration since 2018.

Former Italian Prime Minister and leader of Forza Italia Silvio Berlusconi holds in Rome on March 9th, 2022. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

The Democratic Party (Partito Democratico, PD)

The centre-left Democratic Party is Italy’s second-biggest political party in terms of voter share this election, currently polling just behind FdI around 23 percent.

But unlike FdI, the PD has not formed a strong alliance ahead of the election – which in this election will be key to success.

PD’s election manifesto is pro-Europe, and pro-immigration, proposing a new immigration law that would make it easier to legally relocate to Italy for work.

It also proposes introducing a €9 minimum wage and modest tax breaks, and raising certain unemployment benefits.

The party’s current leader, Enrico Letta, is a former Italian prime minister and academic. The ideology of the PD can be hard to pin down due to the party’s broad nature, but is inspired by social democracy.  

As the name suggests, it draws inspiration from the American Democratic Party: ex-PM and former party leader Matteo Renzi was one of Barack Obama’s closest international allies.

READ ALSO: Italian elections: What are the main parties’ policies for foreigners?

Enrico Letta, head of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), at an interview with AFP in Rome on July 29th, 2022. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

The party was in power most recently from 2013 to 2018, but the party’s support and influence has dwindled since then

Read more about Italy’s Democratic Party here.

The Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle, M5S)

If you followed Italy’s 2018 elections, you’ll have heard a lot about this party and how it swept to power from nowhere on a tide of protest votes. Unfortunately for supporters, it seems to be sinking back into oblivion almost as quickly.

The movement’s anti-establishment, Eurosceptic programme proved popular with disaffected voters last time around, particularly in Italy’s southern regions. But political experts say the party has been a victim of its own success.

After entering government in 2018 – and remaining a key part of successive governments for the past four years – M5S had to soften its stance on everything from the euro to environmental issues and, as its current election manifesto shows, it’s somewhat unclear what the party now stands for.

The party, which says it is neither right- not left-wing, is currently polling at around 10-11 percent ahead of the election this month – which is a sharp drop from the 33 percent of the vote it took at the last election in 2018.

READ ALSO: ‘They’re all talk’: How the Five Star Movement lost southern Italy’s support

You’ll no doubt recognise party leader Giuseppe Conte; the former university lecturer who gained international fame as he led Italy through the first part of the pandemic as prime minister in 2020. He wasn’t M5S leader then, but the party hopes his personal popularity will now boost its election prospects.

Read more about the Five Star Movement here.

Current leader of the Five Star Movement, Giuseppe Conte, with former leader Luigi Di Maio in 2019. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Italia Viva (IV)

Italia Viva (meaning ‘Italy alive’) is a smaller, relatively new party that sits in the political centre, with an election manifesto focused on tax reform, “sustainable economic growth”, and “equal opportunities for all” and aiming to present the party as the sensible face of Italian politics.

The party was founded and is led by Matteo Renzi, the ex-prime minister and former PD leader and who left to form Italia Viva in 2017.

In fact Renzi has a reputation for bringing down governments (most notably his own in 2016, and then he did it again in 2021 to a coalition Italia Viva was part of), and as such is nicknamed Il rottomatore (the wrecker).

This, and his arrogant political style, has led some people to say he’s eternally vying for the heavily-contested position of Italy’s most disliked politician.

But all this hasn’t stopped Italia Viva from being one of the more influential smaller political parties; it’s now polling at around five percent as part of an alliance with the centrist Azione party, led by Carlo Calenda, which is campaigning under the slogan Italia, sul serio (‘Italy, seriously’.)

Leader of Azione, Carlo Calenda (L) and Italia Viva, Matteo Renzi, in Milan on September 2, 2022 during the launch of their election campaign. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Find all the latest news on Italy’s election race here.

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POLITICS

Italy’s Meloni begins tricky government talks after election win

Italian far-right leader Giorgia Meloni and her allies on Tuesday began what is set to be a weeks-long process of forming a new government, with crises looming on several fronts.

Italy's Meloni begins tricky government talks after election win

Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, which triumphed in Sunday’s elections, has no experience of power but must assemble a cross-party team to tackle sky-high inflation and energy prices, and relations with a wary Europe.

The 45-year-old is hoping to be the first woman to lead Italy as prime minister, but needs her allies, Matteo Salvini’s far-right League party and former Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, for a majority in parliament.

The division of the top jobs – notably economy, foreign affairs, the defence and interior ministries – will always be political but now, more than ever, “will have to reflect areas of expertise”, the Stampa daily noted.

President Sergio Mattarella will begin consultations on who should lead the new government only once the Senate and Chamber presidents have been elected by parliament, which meets on October 13th.

In the past, it has taken anything between four and 12 weeks for a new administration to take office.

But the first deadline for action is coming up fast, with Italy due to submit its draft plan for next year’s budget to Brussels by October 15th.

READ ALSO: The five biggest challenges facing Italy’s new government

The parties have said they want to make major changes, with a manifesto promising to slash taxes, roll back welfare, and “revise” the terms of Italy’s recovery fund agreement with Brussels – potentially putting the rest of the deal, worth a total of almost 200 billion euros to Italy, at risk.

EU economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said he urged “the next Italian government to ensure that this opportunity is seized”, saying the fund was key to putting Italy on a path to “strong and durable growth”.

Agnese Ortolani, senior Europe analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said she expected Meloni “to continue to reassure the markets by picking a non-controversial figure for the role of finance minister”.

“She will also want to avoid reputational damage by nominating someone who is not perceived as credible by the markets,” she said in a note.

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

Meloni’s allies have been pitching for heavyweight positions, Salvini wanting his old job as interior minister back, and Berlusconi eyeing president of the Senate.

Their parties’ disappointing performance in the polls, however, with neither reaching 10 percent while Brothers of Italy’s secured 26 percent, means Meloni may already be planning to sideline them.

League leader Matteo Salvini (L) and Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni are set to form a government together following the election. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

Salvini and Berlusconi do not see eye-to-eye with Meloni on several fronts, including on Russia and public spending to relieve the cost of living crisis.

With all the potential friction ahead, winning the elections “was almost the easy part”, commented Luciano Fontana, chief editor of the Corriere della Sera daily.

Berlusconi downplayed concerns he would rock the boat Tuesday, claiming his party was ready to make compromises “in the country’s interests”.

His ally Antonio Tajani, a former European parliament president, is tipped as possible foreign minister, an appointment which could both appease Berlusconi and assuage international fears that Meloni’s Eurosceptic populist party plans to pick fights with Brussels.

Salvini may prove more difficult. He is currently on trial for allegedly abusing his powers as interior minister in 2019 to block migrants at sea, which some say could rule him out returning to the job.

“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.

“Defusing Salvini” without sparking a backlash that could weaken the government is “Meloni’s first test”, the Repubblica daily said.

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