ROME — Italy is on course to elect its most right-wing government since World War II, after projections suggested a coalition led by Giorgia Meloni is set to take power.
If the projections and exit polls are confirmed, the right will take control at a critical time for the European Union’s third-biggest economy, with Russia’s war in Ukraine driving inflation and testing the limits of Western unity against Moscow.
Such a result would raise major questions about Italy’s future direction at home and internationally. Divisive identity politics will suddenly be in the mainstream of national debate, while Meloni brings a potentially disruptive voice to the top table of EU decision-making. Mateusz Morawiecki, the prime minister of Poland, which fell out with Brussels in a rule of law dispute, tweeted his “congratulations” to Meloni before she had even declared victory.
Projections based on a partial count of senate votes from pollster Consorzio Opinio, for broadcaster Rai, put Meloni’s Brothers of Italy on 24.6 percent, the anti-immigration League party on 8.5 percent and former PM Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia on 8 percent.
Overall, the results would give the right-wing coalition a total of 42.2 percent of the vote in the senate, if accurate.
“Italy has chosen us and we will not betray her,” Meloni told her raucous supporters, who had waited until 2:30 a.m. to hear from her at the party’s election night event in Rome. “We will work so that Italians can be proud to be Italian again.” Meloni said that while the results were not yet final, there was a clear indication that Italians wanted a government led by her party.
At the five-star hotel where the election celebrations were being held, Meloni was greeted with cheering and began singing along to a pop song on stage, before saying “we will sing later.”
She said her party’s lead in the results so far amounted to “a night of pride, a night of redemption, a night of tears, hugs, dreams and memories. This night shows that the apparently impossible bets are possible.”
Meloni’s main left-wing rivals had already conceded defeat. Debora Serracchiani, the leader of the Democratic Party group in the lower house, told a press conference earlier: “Undoubtedly we cannot, given the data we have, not attribute victory to the right, led by Giorgia Meloni.” She said the Democrats on the left would be a responsible opposition and said the responsibility was even more important given the majority of the right in parliament did not represent the majority of the country.
MP Guido Crosetto, one of the founders of Brothers of Italy, told POLITICO that his colleagues’ priority will be “to address the cost of energy and inflation, which are destroying the social and economic fabric of Europe; there is the budget to approve in a short time, so it’s a very difficult moment, but we are leadership that is up to it,” Crosetto said. “She will be an excellent prime minister.”
The League’s Matteo Salvini tweeted: “Center-right in a clear lead in both the Chamber and the Senate! It will be a long night, but I already want to say THANK YOU.”
Will it last?
Lorenzo Castellani, from the political science department at Luiss University in Rome, said the detail of the final result will be crucial for Meloni’s chances of forming a long-lasting administration. If the projection is accurate and the right ends up with only about 42 percent, Meloni and her allies will “have enough seats to form a government but their majority will be very restricted, particularly in the senate, in which case it may not last long,” he said.
If the exit poll is right, winning 43-47 percent of the vote would mean a majority of at least 15-20 senators, “which means you can govern in a much more stable way, without problems,” he said. With 46-47 percent, “they should have won 90 percent of the first past the post seats and may have the two-thirds supermajority needed to change the constitution without a referendum.”
Turnout was just 64 percent, down from 73 percent at the previous election in 2018, after heavy rain in many parts of the country.
The result appears to confirm an astonishing surge for Meloni, whose party took just 4 percent at the latest election in 2018.
Meloni’s success is partly down to not being tarnished by association with previous governments, as she has remained in opposition since founding her party 10 years ago.
But her rise has led to soul-searching among some on the left in Italy who see Meloni’s political tribe as the descendants of Mussolini’s fascists. Brothers of Italy traces its origins to the Italian Social Movement (MSI), which was founded by ex-fascists after WWII. Hardline positions on immigration and drugs combined with her disapproval of abortion and a staunch euro-skepticism reinforce the picture.
Meloni is proud of her status as an outsider. Her character as a short, pugnacious, working-class woman has made her stand out, even in a field crowded with some of Europe’s most colorful political figures.
Over the past year, she has sought to recast the Brothers of Italy as a mainstream conservative group, to appeal to more sophisticated voters, aligning herself completely with NATO and the U.S. on Ukraine. She has refused to endorse her allies’ unrealistic promises on pensions and tax.
“Meloni has managed to remove voters from her allies because she is seen as the leader of the moment, most coherent and did not make compromises in coalition government,” said Castellani.
Over the past two weeks her gains are likely down to the bandwagon effect, where voters decide to get on board with the winner.
The right-wing alliance had been ahead in the polls since Mario Draghi’s government collapsed in July, but a blackout on voting intention surveys for the final two weeks of the campaign created uncertainty over the size of their lead.
After the results are officially confirmed, Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella will open consultations with the parties, to confirm whether the right’s candidate can command a majority in parliament.
Under an agreement of the right-wing coalition, the party with the most votes nominates the candidate for prime minister. Given the necessary horse-trading over Cabinet positions, the next government may not take office for several weeks.