Rome, Italy – A jubilant Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party and on course to become Italy’s first woman prime minister, said voters had given the right-wing group a clear mandate to govern and that she would lead a government for all Italians.
Meloni was speaking at her party’s election night campaign centre in Rome after a projection suggested the Brothers of Italy had emerged as the biggest party in Sunday’s elections, with 26 percent of the vote.
Its coalition partners, hardliner Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forward Italy, are expected to win 8.7 percent and 8.2 percent respectively – enough to guarantee a parliamentary majority for the alliance, according to a forecast by polling company SWG on the private TV channel La 7.
“If we are called upon to govern this nation, we will do so for all Italians, with the aim of uniting the people … to make them proud of being Italians, to waive the Italian flag,” Meloni said in the early hours of Monday, a in a much more subdued tone than normal. “You chose us, and we will not betray you,” she said, visibly emotional.
The Democratic Party, which failed to form a broad alliance with other left-leaning and centrist parties thus reducing its chances to govern, is predicted to win 18.3 percent of the vote, pollsters said. The Five Star Movement, long considered to be in decline, seems to have done better than expected, performing well in the south and securing 16.6 percent of the vote.
The centrist Third Pole, composed of Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva and Carlo Calenda’s Azione, got 7.8 percent.
While the results were not yet definite, Meloni said, voters had sent a “clear indication that they want a centre-right government to guide Italy.” As her supporters hugged, Meloni said the fact that the Brothers of Italy had secured the most votes was a moment of pride.
Giorgia Meloni could become Italy’s first far-right leader since Benito Mussolini in Sunday’s general elections.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) September 24, 2022
The Rome resident has overseen a meteoric rise for her party, whose support was in the single digits in 2018. After years in opposition, her uncompromising attitude has struck a chord with frustrated Italians who, after seven governments in 11 tumultuous years, see Meloni as the only political option left untested.
She further strengthened her reputation as a “coherent” politician by deciding not to support Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s outgoing government. Now she is set to become the country’s first far-right leader since World War II.
During her election campaign, she pledged to reduce taxes, impose a naval block to stop “illegal immigration”, and put Italians’ interests first within the European Union. She has also made clear she will continue to support Ukraine and sanctions against Russia.
But she needs to guide Italy through winter amid a critical energy crisis and surging inflation.
“We thank the Italians for the trust they gave us,” Francesco Lollobrigida, Brothers of Italy’s leader in the lower house said before Meloni took to the stage to speak. “A sense of responsibility is prevailing now and we are starting to feel the weight of what is happening. We have to work hard – Italy is in the midst of an international crisis, an energy crisis so there is little to celebrate, but much to work (on).”
“These are the Italian people expressing themselves,” said Ignazio La Russa, one of the party’s founders. “I would like this narrative around fear to be over. The Italian people have won.”
While there were few doubts about the far-right leader’s victory, the projections also brought some surprises.
“We see a much stronger Five Star Movement as they have really embraced and supported the ‘citizens income’ [a poverty relief scheme] and branded themselves as a party of welfare’s support and redistribution,” said Andrea Ruggeri, a professor of political science and international relations at Oxford University.
The Movement’s leader Giuseppe Conte spent considerable time touring southern provinces, which are home to most of the relief package’s recipients.
The polls also showed a steep decline for the Democratic Party, and the League which fell below the 10 percent threshold. The two parties “after their relative dramatic electoral results will have to rethink their leaderships and their policies to attract votes,” said Ruggeri.
Despite the huge success of Meloni’s party, the coalition is not on track to win 70 percent of the seats, which would have allowed it to pass constitutional reforms without holding referendums. The alliance wants the president – currently appointed by parliament – to be chosen by direct election. Constitutional changes, as well as any centralisation of power, are traditionally considered taboo among left-wing supporters who regard the charter as the byproduct of Italy’s anti-fascist history.
The election results will be confirmed on Monday, but a new government will not be formed before mid-November. The next step is for newly-elected members of parliament to appoint the chambers’ presidents. The two representatives, alongside party leaders, will then start consultations with President Sergio Mattarella.
Taking into consideration the election results and the composition of the new parliament, the head of state will appoint a new prime minister who will propose a list of ministers.
The list will have to be approved by Mattarella and requires a confidence vote from parliament.