Italians are voting for an election that could lead the far right to power: NPR


A Caroline dog waits for its owner to vote at a polling station in Rome, Sunday, September 25, 2022. Italians were voting on Sunday in an election that could swing the country’s politics sharply to the right at a critical time for the Europe. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Alessandra Tarantino/AP


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Alessandra Tarantino/AP


A Caroline dog waits for its owner to vote at a polling station in Rome, Sunday, September 25, 2022. Italians were voting on Sunday in an election that could swing the country’s politics sharply to the right at a critical time for the Europe. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Alessandra Tarantino/AP

ROME (AP) — Italians were voting on Sunday in an election that could swing the country’s politics to the right at a critical time for Europe, with war in Ukraine fueling soaring energy bills and testing the determination of the West to unite against Russian aggression.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT). Counting of paper ballots was due to begin shortly after they close at 11:00 p.m. (21:00 GMT), with projections based on partial results to come early Monday morning.

The publication of opinion polls is banned in the two weeks before the election, but previous polls showed far-right leader Giorgia Meloni and her Brothers of Italy party, with neo-fascist roots, to be the most popular. It suggested that Italians were about to vote their first far-right government into power since World War II. Close behind were former Prime Minister Enrico Letta and his centre-left Democratic Party.

Meloni is part of a right-wing alliance with Anti-Migrant League leader Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi, the three-time prime minister who leads the Forza Italia party he created three decades ago. Italy’s complex electoral law rewards campaign coalitions, meaning Democrats are at a disadvantage because they have failed to secure such a broad alliance with populists and left-wing centrists.

If Meloni becomes prime minister, she will be the first woman in Italy to hold the post. But building a viable ruling coalition could take weeks.

Nearly 51 million Italians have the right to vote. Pollsters, however, predicted voter turnout could be even lower than the record high of 73% in the last general election in 2018. They say despite Europe’s many crises, many voters feel alienated from politics , as Italy has had three coalition governments since the last election – each led by someone who did not stand for election.

Early voters in Rome expressed concerns about Italian politics as a whole.

“I hope we will see honest people, and it’s very difficult these days,” said Adriana Gherdo, at a polling station in the city.

“I accept very well that (the prime minister) could be a woman, but what is important is that it is someone competent,” added voter Clara Invrea.

The election in the eurozone’s third-largest economy is being closely watched in Europe, given Meloni’s criticism of “Brussels bureaucrats” and her ties to other right-wing leaders – she recently defended the Hungarian Viktor Orban after the European Commission recommended suspending billions of euros in funding to Hungary due to concerns over democratic backsliding and possible mismanagement of EU money.

The elections come six months earlier after Mario Draghi’s pandemic unity government collapsed in late July. Italian President Sergio Mattarella saw no alternative but to have voters elect a new parliament.

Opinion polls have found Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank, extremely popular. But the three populist parties in the coalition boycotted a vote of confidence linked to an energy aid measure. Their leaders, Salvini, Berlusconi and Five Star Movement leader Giuseppe Conte, a former prime minister whose party is the largest in the outgoing parliament, have seen Meloni’s popularity grow while theirs slips.

Meloni kept his Brothers of Italy in opposition, refusing to join Draghi’s unity government or Conte’s two coalitions that governed after the 2018 vote.

She further distanced herself from Salvini and Berlusconi with unwavering support for Ukraine, including sending weapons so that Kyiv could defend itself against Russia. His nationalist party defends sovereignty.

Prior to the invasion of Russia, Salvini and Berlusconi had sprung from admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the final days of the election campaign, Salvini criticized Russian atrocities in Ukraine, but Berlusconi raised his eyebrows saying Putin just wanted to put “honest” people in government in Kyiv after pro-Moscow separatists in Donbass complained of being harmed by Ukraine.

Many factories in Italy are facing production cuts – some have already reduced production – and other companies could close as they grapple with gas and electricity bills reaching 10 times more than ‘one year ago. The main candidates, despite their political leanings, have agreed on the urgency of capping energy prices at European or, failing that, national level.

Draghi, who remains in a watchdog role until a new government is sworn in, had already for months pressed EU authorities in Brussels for the same remedy.


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