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Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni set to become Italian prime minister

Giorgia Meloni, a nationalist accused by political rivals and experts of spreading white supremacist ideas, was set Monday to become Italy’s first far-right leader since World War II.

The near-final results from Sunday’s election showed her Brothers of Italy party (Fratelli d’Italia) will lead a right-wing coalition, joined by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party and fellow right-wing firebrand Matteo Salvini’s League party.

The government is predicted to have a majority in both the upper and the lower houses of Italy’s Parliament, giving Meloni, 45, power to enact her nationalist, euroskeptic platform, and swelling the ranks of far-right figures at the top of European politics.

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The results confirm her party’s rise from a radical fringe group to the driving force in right-wing Italian politics. The near-final results confirmed it won more than 26% of the total vote — in the last national election in 2018, it got just 4%.

Meloni, who would be Italy’s first female leader, and the Brothers of Italy advocate naval blockades to stop unauthorized migration from Africa.

She has also bemoaned the chronically low birthrate in Italy and spoken of a left-wing government plot to “finance the invasion to replace Italians with immigrants,” a main tenet of the “great replacement,” a conspiracy theory that accuses shadowy global elites of the wholesale importing of nonwhite migrants to majority white countries.

Italy's Political Parties Await Snap Election Results
Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy, in Rome on Monday. The party’s flame insignia is inherited from MSI, an Italian fascist party founded after 1945.Antonio Masiello / Getty Images

“We must remember that we are not at the end point, we are at the starting point. It is from tomorrow that we must prove our worth,” Meloni said at a rally early Monday, according to a translation from Reuters.

The Brothers of Italy can trace its roots back to a fascist party founded by supporters of dictator Benito Mussolini, although Meloni has rejected any suggestion that lingering fascist tendencies remain, comparing Brothers instead to the United Kingdom’s traditionally center-right Conservative Party.

Although Salvini is set for a government role, it was a bad night for his League party, which won about 9% of the vote, down from more than 17% in 2018. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, formerly a governing party, won 8% of the vote.

The center-left Democratic Party received 19% of the vote and conceded defeat.

“Forza Italia and Lega (League) are populist right-wing parties, whereas Brothers of Italy is clearly a far-right party that has not given up on its post-fascist roots,” Rosa Balfour, director of Carnegie Europe, a think tank in Brussels, told BBC News on Monday.

Image:
Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni casts her vote at a polling station in Rome on Sunday. Alessandra Tarantino / AP

“Ultraconservative values, anti-immigration and nationalism — these are the three keywords that best describe what she stands for,” she said referring to Meloni.

Other far-right figures in Europe have noted Meloni’s success. Among the first to congratulate her was France’s Marine Le Pen, who staged a strong challenge in April’s presidential elections.

“The Italian people has decided to take its destiny in hand by electing a patriotic and sovereignist government,” she said.

Balázs Orbán, the political director of Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, tweeted his congratulations and added pictures of Meloni, Salvini and Berlusconi all shaking hands with Viktor Orbán.

Meloni’s politics have been compared to that of the Hungarian leader, who according to political opponents and European Union leaders has systematically dismantled his country’s democratic structures.

The new election has prompted questions over what comes next for the stability of the Western coalition supporting Ukraine’s resistance against Russia’s invasion.

While Meloni has pledged to support Ukraine, Berlusconi last week told an Italian television news network: “Putin was pushed by the Russian people, by his party, by his ministers to come up with this special operation,” using Russian President Vladimir Putin’s terminology for his military campaign.

Salvini is a long-standing admirer of Putin and has argued for scrapping Western sanctions on Russia.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen outraged Meloni’s supporters last week by hinting the European Union could somehow intervene if Italy were to go in a “difficult direction” and deviate from democratic norms.

Speaking at Princeton University in New Jersey, she said: “We’ll see. If things go in a difficult direction — and I’ve spoken about Hungary and Poland — we have the tools.”

The E.U. is in long-standing legal battles with Hungary and Poland over both countries’ antidemocratic reforms.

Meloni is likely to officially become prime minister in October, taking over from Mario Draghi, the former chief of the European Central Bank whose government collapsed in July leading to Sunday’s snap election.