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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

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

Italy's elections have produced a clear winner. But why did voters choose Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy party, and has Italy really lurched towards the extreme right? Here's a look at what happened.

EXPLAINED: What's behind election success for Italy's far right?
Giorgia Meloni is set to become Italy’s next prime minister. But what’s behind her party’s massive success at the elections? Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

Readers have been in touch over the past few days to express concern at the result of Italy’s elections, with many asking how Italian voters could hand a landslide victory to Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia or FDI) a far-right party with roots in the post-fascist movement.

“I’m trying to understand why most voters in Italy would be in favour of this party? Has nothing been learned from history?” asked one Italian-American reader in the US.

EXPLAINED: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

But, though it might not seem like it from some newspaper headlines, or even from the election results at first glance, the majority of voters did not actually choose Meloni’s party – and a large number of people in Italy didn’t vote at all.

Political analysts also say there hasn’t really been any evidence of the “sharp turn to the right” described in many international media reports. The views of voters in Italy overall aren’t necessarily shifting to the right or getting more extreme: Meloni has however been very successful in uniting the existing right-wing vote.

Her strong right-wing alliance, the lack of any credible opposition, and an electoral system that favours coalitions all worked in Meloni’s favour. Here’s a brief look at what this means:

FdI took the right-wing vote from other parties

While it may look a lot like Italy has taken a sharp turn to the right – particularly from a glance at these overwhelmingly blue maps – political analysts say strong support for the right in Italy has long been at around the same level, but was previously split.

As Dr Daniele Albertazzi, Politics professor at the University of Birmingham, put it in his analysis: “Brothers of Italy has attracted negligible support from outside the right.”

Data shows Meloni likely drew much of her recent surge in support from Italy’s other right-wing parties, particularly the League and small hard-right parties, while right-leaning supporters of Italy’s populist Five Star Movement likely also voted for the right-wing coalition this time.

FdI’s success came from it being the biggest party in a strong right-wing coalition able to appeal to voters all the way from the more moderate centre-right to the extreme right.

Many moderate voters said they were giving Meloni a chance because other party leaders were almost all familiar faces who’ve already had a shot at running the country – Enrico Letta, Giuseppe Conte, Matteo Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi have all previously served as prime minister at least once.

While Meloni has been involved in politics for many years, she was previously unknown to most of the electorate. Her profile has risen astronomically over the past 18 months after she chose to make FdI the only party in opposition to Mario Draghi’s broad ‘national unity’ government, attracting the protest vote (which last time went to the populist M5S and League) by presenting it as the only alternative to the status quo.

Voter turnout was historically low

A poor turnout, particularly in the south, is also thought to have contributed to the election result.

Voter turnout fell to a low of around 64 percent, about nine points lower than the last elections in 2018, and the lowest-ever turnout at an Italian general election.

The rate of voter participation was markedly lower in southern regions, with the lowest turnout of all in the region of Calabria at 50.8 percent.

Meanwhile the highest turnout was recorded in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto, both at around 70 percent. This area happens to be the heartland of hard-right parties including Brothers of Italy and the League (previously called the Northern League).

Around one in four of those who voted in Sunday’s election backed Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.

At the last elections in 2018 the south of Italy voted overwhelmingly for the Five Star Movement, which promised to tackle poverty, inequality, and other issues primarily affecting southern regions while railing against the political establishment.

But the party seemingly failed to impress once it got into government, and has since lost a lot of support. It also chose to run alone rather than allying with any other parties, which put it at a disadvantage.

Italy’s electoral system favours coalitions

The centre-left’s complete failure to form a strong coalition in order to fight the election is also thought to have contributed to the right’s landslide win.

Such alliances are paramount in Italy due to the way the electoral system works. About 37 percent of seats in both houses of parliament are allocated on a first-past-the-post basis in single-member constituencies, and this works to the advantage of parties who run as part of coalitions. (You can find an explanation of how Italy’s particularly complicated hybrid voting system works here.)

As a result, the right-wing bloc with 44 percent of the vote was able to take more seats in parliament than all the centre and centre-left parties on 49 percent, basically because of the fact it joined together and they didn’t.

Member comments

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am relieved to learn that my analysis was correct, and really angry at Conte, never mind the so-called left. Italy needs another “Dolce Enrico” but I don’t see anyone in that cesspool who can come close.

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MONEY

EXPLAINED: Why people in Italy might have to carry more cash from now on

Under Italy’s new budget law, retailers will no longer be fined for refusing card payments on amounts lower than €30 – a controversial move that is expected to have a knock-on effect for shoppers.

EXPLAINED: Why people in Italy might have to carry more cash from now on

Italy’s new budget bill, whose full text was made available to the media on Wednesday, is set to add yet another controversial chapter to the country’s long and troubled history of card payment laws.

According to a clause included in the 2023 budget law, fines for retailers refusing card payments on amounts lower than €30 will now be suspended until at least June 2023.

As set out by the bill, the six-month suspension will allow the newly created Ministry of Enterprises and Made in Italy to “establish new exemption criteria” and “guarantee the proportionality of the given penalties”. 

READ ALSO: Key points: What Italy’s new budget law means for you 

And, though it isn’t yet clear what new exemptions the government is currently considering nor what exactly is meant by “proportionality”, what’s certain is that residents will now have to repopulate their pockets with some good old banknotes because businesses – from taxi drivers to cafes and bars might not accept card payments for small amounts.

Fines for businesses caught refusing card payments had been introduced by Draghi’s administration back in June 2022, with retailers liable to pay “a €30 administrative fee plus four percent of the value of the transaction previously denied”, regardless of the amount owed by the customer. 

Euro banknotes in a wallet

Under Italy’s new budget law, retailers will no longer be forced to accept card payments for transactions under €30. Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

But, the measure had quickly sparked outrage among retailers, who lamented having to pay hefty bank commissions on every electronic transaction – some business owners even went as far as openly defying the law and organised themselves into a No-Pos Committee (Comitato No Pos). 

Given the latest developments, it seems like their efforts might just have paid off. 

But, while many business owners will surely be happy with the suspension, others across the country have already raised doubt about the potential ripple effects of the government’s move.

Aside from shoppers having to begrudgingly carry more cash than they’re currently used to, many political commentators are warning that the suspension might be a “gift to tax dodgers” in a country where, according to the latest available estimates, tax evasion costs state coffers nearly €90 billion a year.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What’s changing under Italy’s post-pandemic recovery plan? 

It’s also worth noting that the introduction of fines for businesses refusing card payments was one of the financial objectives set out within Italy’s Recovery Plan (PNRR), which expressly refers to the fight against tax evasion as one of the country’s most urgent priorities. 

It is then likely that the new cabinet will at some point have to answer for the latest U-turn on Recovery Plan policies in front of the EU Commission.

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