Giorgia Meloni: the firebrand mother-of-one tipped to become Italy’s first female PM
Italy is expected to elect its first far-right leader since Benito Mussolini when the nationalist Giorgia Meloni is swept into power on Sunday’s vote.
The Brothers of Italy leader has been dominating the polls despite a number of gaffes in her campaign, which saw her forced to suspend a party candidate for praising Hitler and a close associate accused of performing a Nazi salute.
The unmarried mother-of-one was also slammed for sharing a video last month of a Ukrainian refugee allegedly being raped by an asylum seeker in the city of Piacenza, to whip up anti-migrant hysteria.
The 45-year-old, who would be the country’s first ever female prime minister, has captured the public imagination with her campaign of ‘God, country and family’ and railing against ‘woke ideology’.
‘Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby! Yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology! Yes to the culture of life, no to the abyss of death!’ a wild-eyed Meloni cried in a speech in June.
Brothers of Italy has roots in a neo-fascist movement formed to carry on the legacy of dictator Mussolini.
Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, takes a selfie during a rally in the Duomo square in Milan
Yesterday, she appeared on stage alongside Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi in a campaign in Rome. The trio are likely to form an alliance in power
The 45-year-old, who would be the country’s first ever female prime minister, has captured the public imagination
Meloni is pictured in 2009 alongside then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi when she served as Minister for Youth
In 2019, Meloni introduced Caio Giulio Cesare Mussolini, a great-grandson of Benito Mussolini, as one of her candidates for the European Parliament, although he eventually lost.
The result of Sunday’s election will come almost 100 years to the month after Mussolini came to power in October 1922.
Meloni’s main alliance partner is right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini, who advocates a similar anti-migrant message and has spoken in support of Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Vladimir Putin.
Meloni, who called for a blockade off the North African coast to stop ships carrying migrants to Italy, also congratulated Putin’s election win in 2018 but says she is now in favour of Western sanctions against Russia.
The elections are being closely watched in Brussels, where the prospect of a eurosceptic, populist government heading the eurozone’s third largest economy has sparked concerns.
Meloni argues on stage with an LGBT activist holding a rainbow flag during a campaign in Cagliari
The result of Sunday’s election will come almost 100 years to the month after Mussolini came to power in October 1922
Meloni, the sole major party leader to refuse to join Draghi’s coalition, is polling the strongest of the candidates
Why did Draghi resign?
Draghi, an internationally respected veteran, formally handed his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella in July.
The former head of the European Central Bank was parachuted into the premiership in 2021 as Italy wrestled with a pandemic and ailing economy.
But he led a fractious government which failed to come together under his agenda.
Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia, Salvini’s anti-immigrant League and the populist Five Star Movement all voted against his policies, forcing his hand.
The crisis was sparked when Five Star snubbed a key vote, despite warnings from Draghi that it would fatally undermine the coalition.
His downfall came in spite of polls suggesting most Italians wanted Draghi to stay at the helm until the scheduled general election next May.
The publication of polls was halted 15 days before Sunday’s vote, but before then they indicated Meloni’s party would be the biggest vote-getter, just ahead of the centre-left Democratic Party headed by former Premier Enrico Letta.
Brothers of Italy was last polling at around 24-25 percent, ahead of the centre-left Democratic Party on 21 or 22 percent, followed by Five Star on 13-15 percent.
With the League around 12 percent and Berlusconi’s party at eight percent, Meloni’s coalition looks on course to secure between 45 and 55 percent of seats in parliament.
But with 40 percent of Italians saying they have yet to decide or will not vote, experts warn there is still room for some upset in a country famous for its unstable politics, with almost 70 governments since 1946.
Letta had hoped in vain for a campaign alliance with the left-leaning populist 5-Star Movement, the largest party in the outgoing legislature.
The outgoing government is headed by former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi. In early 2021, Italy’s president tapped Draghi to form a unity government after the collapse of the second ruling coalition of 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte.
In what Pregliasco called an ‘apparent paradox,’ polls indicate that ‘most Italians like Draghi and think his government did a good job.’
Yet Meloni, the sole major party leader to refuse to join Draghi’s coalition, is polling the strongest.
Meloni received widespread condemnation for posting a video of a Ukrainian woman being raped by an asylum seeker in an Italian city last month
Supporters hold a banner which reads ‘we are Giorgia’ during a rally in Rome yesterday
Meloni served as youth minister in Berlusconi’s last government, which ended a decade ago
Meloni served as youth minister in Berlusconi’s last government, which ended a decade ago.
She grow up in a working class neighbourhood of Rome and joined the Italian Social Movement at the age of 15.
When she became the country’s youngest ever minister, aged 31, she still lived at home with her mother and refused to take a chauffeur-drive government car to parliament, instead taking her Mini.
Her tax advisor father left the family when she was 11 and moved to the Canary Islands, something she says left her with a feeling of inadequacy that fuels her strong work ethic.
Her team say she has exacting standards and writes only by hand in capital letters and demands every item she has to read is printed on a single page in Segoe font size 12, Politico reported.
One of the most divisive issues of her campaign has been abortion after Meloni said she wanted to give a choice to women unsure about terminating pregnancies.
‘We won’t touch the abortion law. We just want (women) to know there are other options,’ she said.
Meloni is likely to keep her word on not criminalising abortion, said Bonino, who did time in jail in the 1970s for her fight to legalise it.
But she fears Meloni will instead ‘push for the law to be ignored’, exacerbating an existing problem – difficulties in getting hold of abortion pills or finding gynaecologists willing to perform terminations.
But others are backing the likely leader, for her strong stance on immigration and her vow to cut taxes.
Brothers of Italy has roots in a neo-fascist movement formed to carry on the legacy of dictator Mussolini
Meloni is expected to beat the centre-left Democratic Party headed by former Premier Enrico Letta (pictured centre)
‘I will vote for Meloni because I believe that immigration and taxes are the main issues that need to be addressed,’ 21-year-old Margherita Conti told Reuters.
‘But I will also do it because I am happy that we will have a female prime minister and that it will be Giorgia.’
She spoke to a huge crowd of supporters alongside Salvini and Berlusconi last night, who rarely appears in public due to frail health and appeared to have trouble walking.
The rally showed the wave of support for the right-wing candidate, despite setbacks earlier in her campaign.
A Brothers of Italy candidate in Sicily was suspended by his party after he posted phrases on social media showing appreciation for Hitler.
Separately, a brother of one of Meloni’s co-founders was spotted giving what appeared to be the fascist salute at a funeral for a relative. The brother denied that.
For years, the right wing has crusaded against unbridled immigration, after hundreds of thousands of migrants reached Italy’s shores aboard smugglers’ boats or vessels that rescued them in the Mediterranean Sea.
Both Meloni and Salvini have thundered against what they see as an invasion of foreigners not sharing what they call Italy’s ‘Christian’ character.
The elections are being closely watched in Brussels, where the prospect of a eurosceptic, populist government heading the eurozone’s third largest economy has sparked concerns
Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni speaks at the final rally of the center-right coalition in central Rome
One of the most divisive issues of her campaign has been abortion after Meloni said she wanted to give a choice to women unsure about terminating pregnancies
Letta, who wants to facilitate citizenship for children of legal immigrants, has, too, played the fear card. In his party’s campaign, ads on buses, half the image depicts a serious-looking Letta with his one-word motto, ‘Choose,’ with the other half featuring an ominous-looking image of Putin.
Salvini and Berlusconi have both expressed admiration for the Russian leader. Meloni backs supplying arms so Ukraine can defend itself.
With energy bills as much as 10 times higher than a year ago, how to save workers’ jobs ranks high among Italian voters’ worries.
But with the exception of Salvini, who wants to revisit Italy’s closed nuclear power plants, candidates have largely failed to distinguish themselves in proposing solutions to the energy crisis. Nearly all are pushing for a EU cap on gas prices.
The perils of climate change haven’t loomed large in the Italian campaign. Italy’s tiny Greens party, a campaign partner of Letta, is forecast to capture barely a few seats in Parliament.
Who is in the running to be the next Italian prime minister?
Riding high in voter opinion surveys for weeks now, Meloni might become Italy’s first far-right premier since the end of World War II, and its first ever female leader. Her Brothers of Italy party has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity since the vote in 2018, when it polled just over 4%.
In the now-expiring legislature, Meloni refused to have her party, which she co-founded in 2012, join any coalition government, including the pandemic unity government under outgoing Premier Mario Draghi.
Meloni might become Italy’s first far-right premier since the end of World War II
At 45, Meloni would also be one of Italy´s youngest premiers. She contends that the European Union is too bureaucratic but has said she wouldn´t push for any ‘Italexit’ – pulling the country out of the shared euro currency – and depicts herself as a staunch backer of NATO. She rallies against what she calls LGBT ‘lobbies´´ and promotes what she says is Europe´s ‘Christian identity.’
But in sharp contrast to her fellow leaders on Italy´s right – anti-migrant Matteo Salvini and former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who have both openly admired Russian President Vladimir Putin – Meloni backs military aid for Ukraine.
She is dogged by contentions she hasn’t made an unambiguous break with her party´s neo-fascist roots.
Letta, the 56-year-old leader of the Democratic Party, Italy´s main center-left force, is Meloni´s chief election rival.
Letta served as premier in a coalition including center-right forces after a 2013 election failed to yield a clear-cut majority. But he lost the premiership after barely 10 months when an ambitious fellow Democrat, Matteo Renzi, maneuvered to take the office for himself.
Letta, the 56-year-old leader of the Democratic Party, Italy´s main center-left force, is Meloni´s chief election rival
Burned by the ouster, Letta headed to teach in Paris at the prestigious Sciences Po university. With infighting chronically plaguing the Democrats, he returned to Italy to take back the reins of the party in March 2021.
Letta was foiled in his quest to build a solid center-left electoral alliance to challenge Meloni and her allies when the populist 5-Star Movement, the largest party in the outgoing Parliament, helped to collapse Draghi´s government this summer.
Salvini, the 49-year-old League party leader, had been the unchallenged face of right-wing leadership in Italy until Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party took off.
His party has roots in Italy´s industrial north. In a surprise move, he cut a deal in 2018 to govern with the 5-Star Movement, even after deriding the populist forces.
A little more than a year later, he maneuvered to oust 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte from the premiership, so he could take the office for himself. But Conte outmaneuvered Salvini and cut his own deal with the Democratic Party, forming a coalition government that left the League in the opposition.
Salvini, the 49-year-old League party leader, had been the unchallenged face of right-wing leadership in Italy until Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party took off
As interior minister in Conte´s first government, Salvini pushed his hard line against migrants, especially those arriving by the tens of thousands in smugglers´ boats launched from Libya. Under his tenure, migrants rescued by humanitarian ships were kept for days or weeks aboard the overcrowded vessels because he refused to quickly let them disembark. Prosecutors in Sicily had him indicted on kidnapping charges over his policy. He has been found innocent in one case; another trial in Palermo is still going on.
Berlusconi pioneered populist politics in Italy in the 1990s when he formed his own party and named it Forza Italia after a stadium soccer cheer. With his 86th birthday on Sept. 29, and Forza Italia´s popularity shrinking in recent years, the former three-term premier is not gunning for a fourth term but instead hoping for a Senate seat. Nearly a decade ago, the Senate expelled him because of a tax fraud conviction stemming from his media empire.
Berlusconi pioneered populist politics in Italy in the 1990s when he formed his own party and named it Forza Italia
Berlusconi promises to exercise a moderating influence on the two bigger parties in the right-wing alliance: those of Meloni and Salvini.
Berlusconi’s last premiership ended abruptly in 2011 when financial markets lost confidence that the billionaire media magnate could manage his country’s finances during Europe´s sovereign debt crisis.
A lawyer specializing in mediation, Conte, now 58, was plucked out of political obscurity to become premier in 2018 after the populist, euroskeptic 5-Star Movement he now heads stunned Italy´s establishment by sweeping nearly 33% of the vote to become Parliament’s largest party. When neither then-5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio nor right-wing leader Matteo Salvini budged on who would become premier, Conte got the job.
A lawyer specializing in mediation, Conte, now 58, was plucked out of political obscurity to become premier in 2018
Some 15 months later, Conte´s government collapsed when Salvini made a botched move to take the premiership for himself. But Conte outsmarted Salvini by forming a new government that replaced the League with the center-left Democratic Party.
Early in his second stint as premier, Italy became the first nation in the West to be slammed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Conte enforced one of the world´s strictest coronavirus lockdowns. But in January 2021, 16 months into Conte´s second government, it collapsed after Matteo Renzi, a former premier, yanked his small centrist party from the coalition.