ITALY is set to have its first far-right leader since Benito Mussolini as outsider Giorgia Meloni has led exit polls in a shocking twist.
An exit poll for state broadcaster RAI said the bloc of conservative parties, which also includes Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, won between 41 and 45 per cent enough to guarantee control of both houses of parliament.
Italy‘s electoral law favours groups that manage to create pre-ballot pacts, giving them an outsized number of seats by comparison with their vote tally. Full results are expected by early Monday.
Meloni who campaigned on a motto of “God, country and family”, hopes to become Italy’s first female prime minister.
She tweeted: “Today you can participate in writing history.”
A few hours earlier she shared a clip on Tiktok holding a pair of melons- a wordplay on her last name- which she captioned “I said it all.”
Figures show turnout was lower than in the 2018 elections.
Many voters are expected to pick Meloni, “the novelty, the only leader the Italians have not yet tried”, Wolfango Piccoli of the Teneo consultancy said.
Brussels and the markets are watching closely, amid concern that Italy – a founding member of the European Union – may be the latest country to veer hard right, less than two weeks after the far-right outperformed in elections in Sweden.
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If she wins, Meloni will take over as her country battles rampant inflation and a winter energy crisis linked to the conflict in Ukraine.
The Italian economy, the third largest in the eurozone, rebounded after the pandemic but is saddled with a debt worth 150 per cent of gross domestic product.
Brothers of Italy, which has roots in the post-fascist movement founded by supporters of dictator Mussolini, pocketed just four per cent of the vote in 2018 and has never been in power.
Meloni, whose own experience of government is limited to a ministerial post in the 2008 Berlusconi government, has dedicated her campaign to try to prove she is up to the challenge.
She has moderated her views over the years, notably abandoning her calls for Italy to leave the EU’s single currency.
However, she insists her country must stand up for its national interests, backing Hungary in its rule of law battles with Brussels.
Her coalition wants to renegotiate the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund, arguing that the almost 200 billion euros Italy is set to receive should take into account the energy crisis aggravated by the Ukraine war.
But “Italy cannot afford to be deprived of these sums”, political sociologist Marc Lazar said, which means Meloni actually has “very limited room for manoeuvre”.
The funds are tied to a series of reforms only just begun by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who called snap elections in July after his national unity coalition collapsed.
Despite her euroscepticism, Meloni strongly supports the EU’s sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, although her allies are another matter.
Berlusconi, the billionaire former premier who has long been friends with Vladimir Putin, faced an outcry this week after suggesting the Russian president was “pushed” into war by his entourage.
A straight-speaking Roman raised by a single mother in a working-class neighbourhood, Meloni rails against what she calls “LGBT lobbies”, “woke ideology” and “the violence of Islam”.
She has vowed to stop the tens of thousands of migrants who arrive on Italy’s shores each year, a position she shares with Salvini, who is currently on trial for blocking charity rescue ships when he was interior minister in 2019.
The centre-left Democratic Party says Meloni is a danger to democracy.
It also claims her government would pose a serious risk to hard-won rights such as abortion and will ignore global warming, despite Italy being on the front line of the climate emergency.
On the economy, Meloni’s coalition pledges to cut taxes while increasing social spending, regardless of the cost.
The last opinion polls two weeks before election day suggested one in four voters backed Meloni, but around 20 per cent of voters were undecided.
In particular, support appears to be growing for the populist Five Star Movement in the poor south.
The next government is unlikely to take office before the second half of October.