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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

OPINION: Giorgia Meloni’s party will likely win the elections – but will it last?

While the far-right Brothers of Italy party is almost guaranteed to lead the next government, it may not survive Italy's political system for very long, writes Billy Briggs.

OPINION: Giorgia Meloni's party will likely win the elections - but will it last?
Leader of Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy) Giorgia Meloni addresses supporters during a rally at Milan's Piazza Duomo. Her party looks almost guaranteed to win the coming election - but will a resulting government last? Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

When Italy last held an election in 2018, the Fratelli d’Italia – Brothers of Italy – were minnows, taking a mere 4.4 percent of the vote. Now, ahead of the 2022 vote on September 25th, opinion polls suggest the far-right group is on course for a historic victory that would make them the largest party in Italy.

If this comes to pass, the Brothers of Italy would enter government at the head of a three-party coalition (already agreed with Matteo Salvini’s the League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia). Party leader Giorgia Meloni would be prime minister.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Is Brothers of Italy a ‘far right’ party?

This is significant because Brothers of Italy’s historic lineage traces back to the neo-fascists of the post-war period. Indeed, its very symbol (a tricoloured flame) is the same as that of its predecessor, the National Alliance, and of its predecessor, the Italian Social Movement – which was founded by veterans of Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic.

The result of this election is already considered a foregone conclusion. That is not just because the margin of difference in polling is so great, but also because the parties of the centre and left have failed to construct a pre-electoral coalition.

In Italy, this is a form of political suicide. The electoral system – part majoritarian and part proportional – favours those parties which make pre-electoral pacts and form large coalitions. Yet, the Democrats rejected a pact with the Five Star Movement because of its role in bringing down the government of Mario Draghi.

Leader of Italian far-right party Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) Giorgia Meloni, addresses supporters during a rally in Milan on September 11th. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

The centrist “third pole” created by two smaller parties then rejected the Democrats because they were flirting with the Green Left. This fragmentation means not just that the right-wing coalition is unsurpassable but that it could, with over 40 percent of the vote, secure more than two-thirds of the seats in the Italian parliament.

Alarm bells ringing

A majority of that size would enable the government to amend the constitution and introduce a directly elected presidency – an idea on which all three parties in the coalition seem to agree. When a politician of the far right like Meloni speaks of replacing parliamentary democracy with a “democracy of the people”, it sends a shiver down the spines of many Italians.

Fears of a return to the fascism of the past may nevertheless be overstated. A detailed look at any policy area (European integration, migration, the energy crisis, Ukraine) reveals significant differences between the three parties of the right. It is not at all clear that they are capable of producing coherent government, let alone see through on a radical constitutional overhaul.

READ ALSO: Salvini vs Meloni: Can Italy’s far-right rivals put differences aside?

The positions adopted by the Brothers of Italy also often seem incompatible, if not contradictory with each other. This is because Meloni is speaking to two audiences. One needs reassuring that she will not be too extreme if elected. The other comprises party members, militants and sympathisers who need to hear about ideologically motivated changes to come, and who are more interested in the tone and big picture than the details.

Europe and Russia

Meloni’s position on Europe is another cause for concern. Although she declares herself to be committed to the EU, she also wants to review various financial arrangements with the bloc. And the other parties in her coalition are well known for their eurosceptism. Their programme (“For Italy”) says it wants a more political and less bureaucratic EU, and there is concern as to what this might mean.

A Meloni-led government also brings potential ramifications for the sanctions on Russia and the arming of Ukraine. Both Europe and Moscow are wondering if the election outcome might see a change in the Italian government’s position that undermines Europe’s united front. For all Meloni’s apparent commitment to the European position, Salvini and Berlusconi are sceptics, if not outright opponents.

READ ALSO: Your ultimate guide to Italy’s crucial elections on Sunday

The American National Security Council recently revealed evidence that Russia secretly channels funds to a large network of (as yet unnamed) parties (including Italian ones), in order to disrupt democratic processes and garner support for Moscow. This has fuelled suspicions that the parties of the right may all be involved.

Meanwhile, Italy finds itself in a significantly deteriorating economic scenario and is especially exposed to the Russian gas crisis. The IMF has estimated that an embargo on Russian gas would see an economic contraction in Italy of over 5 percent – higher than all other EU nations but Hungary, Slovakia and Czechia.

Matteo Salvini (League) and Giorgia Meloni (Borthers of Italy)

Political differences between Giorgia Meloni (Brothers of Italy) and Matteo Salvini (League) raise doubts over the stability of the far-right bloc. Photo by Luca PRIZIA / AFP

The country will also be affected by the European Central Bank’s decision to scale back its stimulus programme by raising interest rates and stopping the purchase of national bonds. Small wonder that investors have been selling off Italian bonds and hedge fund investors have been betting against them on a mammoth scale.

The markets, in short, are worried, although they are, as it were, building in expectations of a right-wing victory, which may therefore offset a dramatic post-election fall.

Deja vu?

It should be noted that Italy has been in a similar political position before. There were widespread fears ahead of the 2018 general election about what would happen if the populists came to power – and, sure enough, they did. The Five Star Movement, with an extraordinary 32.7% of the vote, formed a government with Salvini’s League.

Yet, the government proved to be hopelessly divided (some would say incompetent) and collapsed a year later. On today’s opinion polling evidence, Five Star is now a relatively minor political force.

True, what makes 2022 different is that this will be the first time the heirs of neo-fascism have come to power. But it should not be forgotten that Italy’s political system is difficult to monopolise, and even more difficult to reform. In short, the jury on the threat represented by Meloni is still out.

This article was written by Billy Briggs, a lecturer at Wigan University, and was originally published on The Conversation.

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POLITICS

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.

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