IWOULD YOU hard to imagine a more satisfying result for Giorgia Meloni and her Radical-Nationalist Brothers of Italy (FDI) than the one that took shape early on September 26 after the Italian general election. With all but 2% of the votes counted, the right-wing alliance to which the Brotherhood belongs beat its closest rivals, a centre-left coalition, by more than 18 percentage points.
That, or something similar, had been predicted in the polls. What wasn’t quite expected was the extent of Brotherhood dominance in the harshly conservative partnership now on the verge of forming Italy’s most right-wing government since World War II. Ms. Meloni’s party, which uses the same symbol as the post-war neo-fascist party from which the Brotherhood emerged, won more than 26% of the vote. This compares to 9% for the Northern League (half its share in the last legislative elections, in 2018) and 8% for Forza Italia, whose leader, Silvio Berlusconi, had presented himself as a moderating influence. In the next government, on the contrary, the potential role of Mr Berlusconi, 85, and the League’s Matteo Salvini – if he were to survive as leader after his party’s dismal result – will be to keep quiet and to be silent.
In part, the Brethren’s success is due to their novelty. Having taken only 4% in the 2018 elections, they were the only major party to remain outside the national unity coalition of Mario Draghi, which took office last year. As often happens in Italian politics, Ms Meloni’s star is likely to fade once faced with the harsh realities of government. Faced with a probable recession, a war on the borders of the EU and a raging cost-of-living crisis, a government led by Ms. Meloni may have little time or inclination to pursue a radical agenda. Another big question mark hangs over his ability to cope with such a daunting array of challenges.
Ms Meloni, set to become Italy’s first female prime minister, addressed both issues in a victory speech to cheering supporters at a hotel in Rome. “The situation in Italy, EU, now requires a contribution from everyone,” she said. And she delivered a reassuring message, albeit tinged with vigorous nationalism: “If we are called upon to govern the nation, we will do it for everyone: to bring a people together, to exalt what unites rather than what divides. [and] give the Italian people the pride of waving the Habs [Italy’s national flag of green, white and red]”. Once a Eurosceptic, Ms Meloni now stresses that she wants to work with Brussels. She is a strong supporter of Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
A second unexpected aspect of the results was the extent of the Democratic Party’s defeat (DB), the greatest force on the left. He won 19% of the vote. It wasn’t much worse, in fact, than his performance in the previous general election in 2018. But it was still a hugely disappointing performance given that the campaign became a direct duel between the DBEnrico Letta, former Prime Minister, and Ms. Meloni, whom Italian progressives regard with fear and disdain.
Congratulations poured in from the kind of politicians who horrify those in Brussels, Paris and Berlin who yearn for a more united Europe. Balazs Orban, the political adviser to the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban (no relation), was the first to mark the occasion. “In these difficult times, we need friends more than ever who share a common vision and approach to Europe’s challenges,” he tweeted. Mateusz Morawiecki, Polish Prime Minister, sent his congratulations shortly afterwards. Marine Le Pen of the French National Rally said Italians had “decided to take their destiny into their own hands by electing a patriotic and sovereignist government”.
Aside from Ms. Meloni, the main winner was populism, as in the 2018 election. The increasingly left-leaning five-star movement (M5S) did significantly better than the polls had predicted, with more than 15% (although that compares to almost a third of the vote in 2018.) Giuseppe Conte, the five-star chef and another former Premier minister, appears to have teased a significant number of voters in Italy’s poorer south to abstain. The right is united in wanting to evolve the Citizen’s Income Allowance, a 2019 Five Star innovation intended to provide a safety net for the tough guys.
Several personalities, including Luigi Di Maio, Foreign Minister of Mr. Draghi’s outgoing government, have lost their place in the legislature. And in the settling of scores that must follow, Mr. Letta, like Mr. Salvini, seems ripe for the cutlet.
How votes will translate into seats in Italy’s new, smaller parliament is still being worked out. But an unofficial projection for RAI, the Italian national broadcaster, gave the right-wing coalition absolute majorities of 32 to 52 seats in the 400-member lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, and 14 to 26 seats in the 200-member Senate. With such a gaping gap between the likely next government and the opposition, a centrist alliance led by a former DB minister, Carlo Calenda, was unable to achieve his goal of maintaining the balance of power.
The new government is not expected to take office before the end of October. The distribution of ministries will be specified in the meantime. The formal choice of prime minister will be made by the president, Sergio Mattarella. He will now begin a series of consultations with the delegations of the various parties. But it’s hard to see how anyone other than Ms Meloni will get the green light.■