Italy’s right confident of election win at last rallies before vote

Italy's right-wing parties will stage a last rally on Thursday in a final push ahead of elections set to install a one-time fan of Mussolini as the country's first female prime minister.

Italy's right confident of election win at last rallies before vote
League party leader Matteo Salvini poses for a selfie with supporters on the election campaign trail. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was leading the last polls by large majority before a polling embargo kicked in two weeks before election day.

With opinion polling suspended, many are now wondering whether a last minute surprise result for other parties could tip the balance – but the right remains confident of a large majority.

READ ALSO: Italy’s far right set for easy victory under Giorgia Meloni

Meloni and her allies, Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, look very likely to form the first far-right led government in Rome since World War II.

The elections in Italy are being closely watched abroad, and Meloni has sought to reassure investors worried about her links with Italy’s post-fascist movement, while at the same time wooing voters at home who are disaffected with the status quo.

Meloni, Salvini and Berlusconi – who at nearly 86 has conducted a largely virtual campaign so far – will hold a rally in Rome Thursday evening before a final day of campaigning ahead of a news blackout on Saturday.

Meloni will then head to the southern city of Naples on Friday, amid indications that the populist Five Star Movement – which won the biggest share of the vote in 2018 – is gaining ground there.

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

Supporters of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which is expected to win Sunday’s general elections. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Runaway inflation, a looming winter energy crisis, and tensions with Russia over the war in Ukraine have dominated debate in a country only just recovering from the trauma of coronavirus.

Europe also looms large. Meloni no longer urges an exit from the euro but says she will assert Italy’s national interests, while the right-wing coalition’s programme calls for a review of EU rules on public spending.

The coalition members do not always see eye to eye, however, raising questions about the stability – and longevity – of their potential future government.

Meloni and Salvini both pursue a far-right nationalist “Italians First” agenda and demand an end to mass migration, while emphasising traditional family values.

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

But while Salvini has long admired Russian President Vladimir Putin and has criticised Western sanctions over Ukraine, Meloni is strongly supportive of Kyiv and is committed to NATO.

Their tensions have added some drama to a campaign otherwise subdued by the almost inevitability of the right’s victory since July, when Prime Minister Mario Draghi called the snap vote after his coalition collapsed.

The Russian embassy in Italy tweeted four photos Thursday showing Putin with almost all the party leaders running on Sunday – with the notable exception of Meloni.

“From the recent history of relations between Russia and Italy. We have some memories,” the embassy wrote, in what was widely viewed as some pre-election trolling.

Meloni was likely not featured in the Russian photos because she has risen from almost out of nowhere, giving her an outsider status that resonates with voters sick of the rotating cast of politicians who have led Italy in recent years.

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

Flavio Chiapponi of the University of Bologna said it was “one of the worst election campaigns of the post-war period, there was no confrontation on policies or concrete measures to be taken”.

Brothers of Italy was last polling at around 24-25 percent, ahead of the centre-left Democratic Party on 21 or 22 percent, followed by the populist Five Star Movement on 13-15 percent.

READ ALSO: Far-right Brothers of Italy party suspends candidate for praising Hitler

With her allies – the League around 12 percent and Berlusconi’s party at eight percent – Meloni’s coalition looks on course to secure between 45 and 55 percent of seats in parliament.

But Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta is putting his hopes in the 40 percent of Italians who say they either will not vote, or have yet to decide.

And experts caution that in a country that has seen almost 70 governments since World War II, predicting politics is notoriously difficult.

“In Italy, the election is decided the day people go to vote,” noted Marc Lazar, professor at the universities of Sciences Po in Paris and Luiss in Rome.

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ANALYSIS: Italy’s hard right set to clash with EU allies over Russia

Italian election winner Giorgia Meloni may at first glance have much in common with ultra-conservative governments in fellow EU nations Poland and Hungary, but experts say that when it comes to real-world policy any alliance could soon run into limits.

ANALYSIS: Italy's hard right set to clash with EU allies over Russia

Reaction to Sunday’s strong result for Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party was muted from pillars of EU integration like Paris and Berlin, but Warsaw and Budapest were warm in their congratulations.

“We’ve never had greater need of friends sharing a vision of and a common approach to Europe,” the Hungarian government said, while from Poland came praise for Meloni’s “great victory”.

“Hungary and Poland are more than happy with this election, first because it relieves the pressure on their own countries in the EU, and second because it paves the way for a more united front,” said Yordan Bozhilov, director of the Bulgaria-based Sofia Security Forum think-tank.

READ ALSO: Polish PM hails far-right’s ‘great victory’ in Italian elections

The Italian election follows hard on the heels of a Swedish poll that also produced a surge for the extreme right.

But with the far right in power in one of the EU’s largest countries and founding members, Hungary and Poland could be far less isolated in their battles with Brussels over rule-of-law issues.

What’s more, Rome, Budapest and Warsaw are now set for alignment on social concerns, with anti-Islam, anti-abortion and anti-LGBT positions.

“Together we will defeat the cynical and pampered Eurocrats who are destroying the European Union, breaching treaties, destroying our civilisation and advancing the LGBT agenda!” Poland’s deputy agriculture minister Janusz Kowalski tweeted in a message congratulating Meloni on Monday.

Meloni also shares her prospective allies’ vision of a Christian, white Europe made up of sovereign nations.

EXPLAINED: What’s behind election success for Italy’s far right?

“Hungary and Poland are countries that want to change the EU from within, and they don’t hide it. So far they haven’t succeeded, but there will definitely be an attempt to create a Rome-Budapest-Warsaw axis,” said Tara Varma, director of the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

But such parties’ demands have already moderated in recent years from full exit from the EU, “given the absolute cautionary tale that Brexit has been,” she added.

Instead, the axis could become “spoilers, the sand in the gears” in Brussels.

“One step forward, two steps back, they could prevent the EU making progress while continuing to benefit from joint funds,” Varma said.

– Splits over Russia –

 A front based on values could still founder when faced with today’s overriding concern of the war in Ukraine and EU relations with Russia.

While Meloni has so far matched Warsaw in declarations of support for Ukraine and for EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion of its neighbour, Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban – close to President Vladimir Putin – is

“At some point, Meloni will have to choose between Poland and Hungary,” Varma predicted.

The Brothers of Italy leader is not expected to bend her position to match those of her junior coalition partners, Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini, who are friendlier to Moscow.

READ ALSO: Italy’s Meloni begins tricky government talks after election win

“Regarding foreign policy, as far as we know Meloni backs the sanctions against Russia and Brothers of Italy is closer to Poland’s PiS (governing party) than Hungary’s Fidesz,” said Hungarian analyst Patrik Szicherle.

Meloni has “sent the right messages on Ukraine,” said Martin Quencez of the German Marshall Fund, pointing out Italy’s critical relationship with the US as a reliable NATO ally.

Once elected prime minister, she “has every incentive to have good relations with Brussels, not to enter a pitched battle,” said Paolo Modugno, professor of Italian civilisation at Paris’ Sciences Po university.

Meloni “is very aware of the Italian public’s problems, their fear of inflation and the economic situation. What’s urgent for her is to manage the crisis, not to take ideological risks,” he added.

Analysts suggest that the incoming government’s choice of top ministers, especially in the finance and foreign ministries, will clearly signal how Meloni plans to position herself in Europe.