A conservative coalition expected to come to power in Sunday’s Italian general election has concluded its campaign in a packed square in central Rome, filled with supporters old and new, young and not so young, a few anti- abortion activists and a descendant of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
The trio — led by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, a party of neo-fascist origin, and including Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia — have gained loud and strong support in recent months and have remained relatively close, in stark contrast to a campaign by its main rival, the center-left Democratic party, which was so lackluster that it managed to revive the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) in southern Italy.
The first to take the stage at Thursday night’s closing meeting in Rome was three-time former Prime Minister Berlusconi, who rattled off a list of his past achievements. Then came Salvini, who said he would resume a policy of preventing migrants from landing in Italian ports during his term in office. The most effusive applause went to Meloni, the 45-year-old from Rome who could become Italy’s first female prime minister.
Ask Meloni’s supporters why they like her, and the recurring answer is, “She’s coherent”. “Meloni’s ideas are always the same, they haven’t changed over the years,” says Francesca De Acutis. “To get this far, she never compromised.”
Maria Rachele Ruiu, a Brother of Italy candidate who comes from the anti-abortion lobby group Pro Vita, said Meloni has been rewarded for her coherence. “She can be trusted,” she added. Ruiu said she ran in the election to help develop policies that would “help women in financial distress to continue their pregnancies” rather than choosing to abort.
Caio Mussolini, the great-grandson of the dictator who ran for the Brothers of Italy in the 2019 European Parliament elections, was also in the crowd to support Meloni.
He criticized the left-wing campaign, saying “the spirit of fascism is all they have” […] This has been one of the worst campaigns, filled with insults and attacks for having no projects or ideas. They make my great-grandfather immortal. In my opinion, fascism ended with its [death] in 1945.”
Final polls before the blackout period two weeks ago predicted a landslide victory for the group. More recently, however, there has been a surprising jump in support for M5S in Italy’s poorer southern regions, as voters have responded to leader Giuseppe Conte’s pledge to keep the party’s flagship policy of civic income for the poor.
Meloni’s plan to scrap the controversial policy, which cost the Italian government €7.1 billion in its first year, has been vulnerable to fraud and failed to create the jobs it was intended for, sparking anger among voters whose livelihoods are has become dependent.
Three million Italians benefit from the income, 70% of whom are in the south. In Sicily, Italy’s poorest region, nearly 300,000 families receive the subsidy.
At a Meloni rally in Palermo last week, many voters carried placards that read: “Do not touch the citizens’ income”.
Conte told the Guardian the income had “caused a social storm”. “When people wear signs like that, it’s like those voters are saying, ‘Our dignity is unassailable, our freedom is untouchable,'” he said.
Further north, however, Meloni’s stance on income has gained support from employers, particularly bar and restaurant owners, who blame the policies for their struggles with hiring.
Yet pundits have bounced back from M5S’s resurgence in the final stages of the election campaign, citing “secret polls” in recent days that predicted a boost for the party to about 15 or 16% of the vote, possibly enough to sway the right-wing party. coalition a thinner majority and tamper with its unity, especially if the League, which gauged around 12% before the blackout period, scores less than M5S.
M5S won 32% in the 2018 election, but support quickly waned after a failed governing coalition with the League, declining even further during subsequent alliances with the Democratic Party and the broad unity government of Mario Draghi. In fact, the collapse of Draghi’s government in July was caused by M5S. To give the party a chance to re-enter government, it would have to once again partner with the Democratic party, whose leader, Enrico Letta, vowed “never again” on Friday.
The battle for citizens’ income could give M5S a boost, but is unlikely to change the course of this election.
Wolfango Piccoli, the co-president of London-based research firm Teneo, said the same secret polls also claimed the right would win by a majority. “The electoral system doesn’t really work well for a party that only has a high concentration of votes in some regions,” he added.