Rome (AFP) – Italians were voting on Sunday in an election that could move the country’s politics sharply to the right. During a critical period for Europe, as the war in Ukraine skyrocketed energy bills and tested the West’s determination to stand united against Russian aggression.
Polls opened at 7 am (0500 GMT). Counting of ballot papers is expected to begin shortly after they close at 11 pm (2100 GMT), with forecasts based on partial results to be released early Monday morning.
Publication of opinion polls was banned in the two weeks leading up to the election, but polls before that showed far-right leader Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party, with its neo-fascist roots, as the most popular. It suggests that Italians are about to vote on the first far-right government to take power since World War II. In the background were former Prime Minister Enrico Letta and his centre-left Democratic Party.
Meloni is part of a right-wing alliance with anti-immigrant League leader Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time prime minister who heads the Forza Italia party he created three decades ago. The complex Italian electoral law Campaign alliances are rewarding, meaning that Democrats are disadvantaged because they have failed to secure a similar broad alliance with left and center populists.
If Meloni becomes prime minister, she will be the first woman in Italy to hold that position. But forming a viable governing coalition could take weeks.
Nearly 51 million Italians are eligible to vote. Despite this, polls predicted turnout would be below the record low of 73% in the last general election in 2018. They say that despite Europe’s many crises, many voters feel alienated from politics, with Italy having three Coalition governments since the last election – each led by someone who has not run for office.
Early voters in Rome expressed their concerns about Italian politics as a whole.
“I hope we see honest people, and that’s very difficult these days,” said Adriana Gerdo, at a polling station in the city.
“I accept very well that (the prime minister) can be a woman, but the important thing is that she be a competent person,” said voter Clara Invrea.
Elections in the eurozone’s third-largest economy are 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 that billions of euros be put on hold. Funding for Hungary due to concerns about democratic backsliding and possible mismanagement of EU funds.
The elections are taking place six months before Mario Draghi’s pandemic government collapses in late July. Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, saw no alternative but for voters to elect a new parliament.
Polls have found Draghi, the former European Central Bank president, very popular. But the three populist parties in the coalition boycotted a confidence vote linked to energy-reducing measures. Their leaders, Salvini, Berlusconi and 5-Star Movement leader Giuseppe Conte, the former prime minister whose largest party is in the outgoing parliament, have seen Meloni’s popularity grow while their party’s has fallen.
Meloni has kept her brethren in Italy in opposition, refusing to join Draghi’s united government or Conte’s coalitions that ruled after the 2018 vote.
It has also distanced itself from Salvini and Berlusconi with relentless support for Ukraine, including sending weapons so that Kyiv can defend itself against Russia. Her nationalist party defends sovereignty.
Prior to the Russian invasion, Salvini and Berlusconi had impressed Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the final days of the election campaign, Salvini criticized Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine, but Berlusconi raised eyebrows by saying that Putin only wanted to put “decent” people in government in Kyiv after pro-Moscow separatists in the Donbass complained of being hurt by Ukraine.
Many factories in Italy are facing cuts – some of which have already cut production – and others may close as they struggle with gas and electricity bills. It’s up to 10 times what it was a year ago. The main candidatesDespite their political leanings, they agreed on the urgency of capping energy prices at the EU level, or failing that, at the national level.
Draghi, who remains in the caretaker position until a new government is sworn in, had already lobbied the EU authorities in Brussels for several months for the same remedy.
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