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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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.