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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.