World

Italy appears headed for 1st far-right government since Second World War

Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni's electoral alliance appeared to hold a wide lead in Italy's national note, an exit poll on state television suggested shortly after polls closed on Sunday evening.

Leader of party with neo-fascist roots likely to become PM with help of right-wing bloc

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy, holds a sign at the party's election night headquarters in Rome on Sunday. (Gregorio Borgia/The Associated Press)

Italian voters shifted sharply, rewarding a party with neo-fascist roots and bolstering prospects the country could have its first far-right-led government since World War II, partial results Monday from the election for Parliament indicated.

In a victory speech, far-right Italian leader Giorgia Meloni struck a moderate tone after preliminary results in Sunday's national election showed her Brothers of Italy party leading contenders.

"If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone, we will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people [of this country]," Meloni said at her party's Rome headquarters.

"Italy chose us," she said. "We will not betray [the country] as we never have."

As polls in the run up to Sunday's vote showed her likely to win enough votes to lead a coalition of like-minded parties, Meloni has moderated her far-right message in an apparent attempt to reassure the European Union and other international partners.

A nun casts a ballot at a Rome polling station on Sunday. (Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)

"This is the time for being responsible," Meloni said, appearing live on television and describing the situation for Italy and the European Union is "particularly complex."

The formation of Italy's next ruling coalition with the help of right-wing allies could take weeks. But if Meloni succeeds, she would be the first woman to hold the country's premiership.

She thanked her main campaign allies and the likely partners essential to her forming a government: anti-migrant League leader Matteo Salvini and conservative former premier Silvio Berlusconi. Apparently headed for a drubbing in the voting was the euro-skeptic Salvini, who had hoped to become premier.

Projections based on just over one-fifth of votes counted from Sunday's balloting suggest Meloni's Brothers of Italy, a party with neo-fascist roots, would win some 25 per cent of the vote. That compared to some 19 per cent by the closest challenger, the centre-left Democratic Party of former premier Enrico Letta. The projections on Italian state TV had a margin of error range of two to five percentage points.

Meloni's strong showing heartened her allies in Europe, intent on shifting the European Union's politics sharply to the right.

Fellow Euroskeptic politicians on the far-right spectrum were among the first to celebrate. Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki congratulated Meloni in a tweet. French politician Marine Le Pen's party also hailed the result as a "lesson in humility" to the EU.

Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain's far-right Vox opposition party, celebrated Meloni's lead, tweeting that "millions of Europeans are placing their hopes in Italy." She "has shown the way for a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate on behalf of everybody's security and prosperity."

Meloni's meteoric rise in the European Union's third-largest economy comes at a critical time, as much of the continent reels under soaring energy bills, a repercussion of the war in Ukraine, and the West's resolve to stand united against Russian aggression is being tested. In the last election, in 2018, Meloni's party took 4.4 per cent.

WATCH | Giorgia Meloni set to become Italy's next PM: 

Right-wing party likely to win Italian election, according to exit polls

2 months ago
Duration 1:52
Italians have cast votes to elect the country’s next government, with exit polls showing Giorgia Meloni and her far-right party Brothers of Italy party likely to form a coalition government.

Tabulating paper ballots was expected to last well into Monday morning.

More than one-third of the 50.9 million eligible voters boycotted the balloting. Final turnout was 64 per cent, according to the Interior Ministry. That is far lower than the previous record for low turnout, 73 per cent in 2018's last election.

Meloni didn't make any immediate comment after the exit poll was announced on RAI state TV. But earlier, she tweeted to Italian voters: "Today you can help write history."

Right-wing alliance

Meloni's party was forged from the legacy of a neo-fascist party formed shortly after the war by those nostalgic for fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Italy's complex electoral law rewards campaign alliance. Meloni was buoyed going into the vote by joining campaign forces with two longtime admirers of Russian President Vladimir Putin — Salvini and Berlusconi. She herself is a staunch advocate of supplying arms to Ukraine to defend itself against the attacks launched by Russia.

Meloni is seen with Lega Leader Matteo Salvini, left, and Forza Italia Leader Silvio Berlusconi, centre, during a joint rally of Italy's right-wing parties in Rome on Thursday. (Yara Nardi/Reuters)

The Democrats went into the vote at a steep disadvantage since they failed to secure a similarly broad alliance with left-leaning populists and centrists.

Italy has had three coalition governments since the last election — each led by someone who hadn't run for office — and that appeared to have alienated many voters, pollsters had said.

"I hope we'll see honest people, and this is very difficult nowadays," Adriana Gherdo said at a polling station in Rome.

People wait to vote at a polling station in Rome on Sunday. (Gregorio Borgia/The Associated Press)

What kind of government Italy might be getting was being closely watched in Europe, given Meloni's criticism of "Brussels bureaucrats" and her ties to other right-wing leaders. She recently defended Hungary's Viktor Orban after the European Commission recommended suspending billions of euros in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding and the possible mismanagement of European Union money.

The election Sunday was being held six months early after Prime Minister Mario Draghi's pandemic unity government, which enjoyed wide citizen popularity, collapsed in late July.

But the three populist parties in his coalition boycotted a confidence vote tied to an energy relief measure. Their leaders, Salvini, Berlusconi and 5-Star Movement Leader Giuseppe Conte, a former prime minister whose party is the largest in the outgoing parliament, saw Meloni's popularity growing while theirs slipped. 

A voter with a dog is seen inside a voting booth at a polling station in Milan on Sunday. (Massimo Pinca/Reuters)

Meloni kept her Brothers of Italy in the opposition, refusing to join Draghi's unity government or Conte's two coalitions that governed after the 2018 vote.

Italian businesses and households are struggling to pay gas and electricity bills, which in some cases are 10 times higher than last year's.

Draghi remains as caretaker until a new government is sworn in.

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