[ed] UPDATE to the following article at 8:35am 26 09 2022: Projections from Euronews indicates that Giorgia Meloni, leader of the right wing Brothers of Italy party will capture 26% of the vote, winning the largest majority in both houses of the Italian parliament. The victory will likely see Meloni set to become Italy’s first female prime minister. The Brothers of Italy‘s right wing partners, who are expected to join a Meloni coalition, saw their vote collapse to below 10% each. The election is projected to be the lowest turnout in Italy’s post-war history.
A bad omen of storms and heavy rain greeted Italy’s polling day, 25 September. Undeterred, my Scottish husband was excited and looking forward to his first vote in an Italian Election since recently being granted citizenship.
As well as an identity card, a voter’s card (tessera elettorale) is required, which is stamped every time you vote. Without these two documents you cannot vote. Italians are used to presenting these documents. This level of security is for historic reasons. It may seem strange to UK eyes, but electoral fraud by organised crime in the southern regions of Italy and Sicily was once endemic. Personally, we like having voting cards stamped as evidence of the date you voted. But that’s just us political geeks.
Reducing the number of seats in both houses of parliament. Only in Italy!
Italy’s electoral system is a mix of – roughly – a third of seats by first-past-the-post and two-thirds by proportional representation. Italians receive two votes across two ballot papers, one for each house of parliament: yellow for the Senate (upper house: Senato), and pink for the Chamber of Deputies (lower house: Camera dei Deputati). Both houses have the same powers. This will be the first election since the constitutional referendum in 2020, which reduced the number of deputies to 400 from 630 and the number of senators from 315 to 200.
Neo-fascists may march into Rome and seize power just like they did in 1922
Although there has been a polling blackout since 10 September it appears likely a right-wing coalition (coalizione di centrodestra) will take power, headed by Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy party. She will form a coalition with Matteo Salvini’s Lega and Forza Italia, headed by political veteran Silvio Berlusconi, 85. The Brothers of Italy have neo-fascist roots, and respected Italian political commentator Professor Andrea Mammone has suggested that “they think very favourably of Mussolini, so much so in fact, that two of their members are direct descendants of him.”
The main ‘goody’ Meloni offers the voters is the introduction of a 15% flat tax rate for citizens. There are doubts about this policy initiative, so it is more likely that there will be small changes to the tax system for the most vulnerable, but very little else will likely change. The centre-left on the other hand supports progressive taxation.
Perhaps more of a surprise is the Brothers of Italy’s ‘leftist’ economic perspective. John Hooper, journalist for the Economist, explained the Brothers are “in favour of state intervention and renationalisation of strategic industries.” Another major concern is the EU post-Covid 19 recovery fund, of which Italy received the largest share in the EU. The democratic left support it, while the Brothers of Italy want to reform it. This is unlikely to happen, however, as many large-scale projects are already under way.
A woman gaining power does not necessarily mean she’s a feminist
Strategically, of course, the Brothers of Italy’s current manifesto does not have any overt mention of fascism, and it has toned down some of its social conservatism concerns in favour of economic ones. This toning down of controversial beliefs is a classic political tool. It could be argued that Meloni may well have to be pragmatic when in power but, depending on the size of the majority, she and her coalition partners may also unleash what they truly believe in, which remains to be seen.
There has been much discussion on Meloni’s stance on anti-abortion, anti-LGBTIQ+, and even women’s rights. If Meloni is successful, she will be Italy’s first female Prime Minister. As Italian journalist Giulia Siviero pointed out in openDemocracy, “Arguing that a woman – any woman – [winning power] is a conquest for all women and for feminism is very sexist to me, because it puts the sex before the person and her beliefs or policies.”
Meloni and her party will certainly not advance Italy’s already limited women’s rights and indeed will actively reduce them. In fact, Meloni takes the ‘traditional womanhood’ view, which promotes the family – preferably large families – to help reverse Italy’s low birth rate. It could be argued that Meloni’s policy of promoting the ‘family’ is a distraction that has an easier policy solution than trying to solve what the right see as a migrant ‘problem’.
Fractured opposition in the face of defeat at the hands of the neo-fascists
The main centre-left opposition is headed by the Democratic Party PD, Partito Democratico, led by Enrico Letta, a professor and former Prime Minister (2013-2014). As one would expect, the party is generally moderate and takes a pro-European stance. It is vehemently opposed to Putin and the war in Ukraine and openly supports LGBTIQ+ rights. Unfortunately, the PD could not reach an agreement with enough centre-left parties to form what some may call an ‘anti-fascist’ left-wing bloc. This begs the question for all of us of a left-leaning persuasion: is it more a loss for the centre-left than a win for the far right? It’s obviously too late now for any change in this election cycle. Nevertheless, it certainly is an essential debate the left here in Italy needs to have if they seriously want to be in government again.
Everyday issues in Italy are similar to those in Scotland and the rest of the UK. The energy and cost of living crisis and the ongoing war in Ukraine are top of everyone’s minds. Meloni and her coalition are calling for more nuclear power and energy self-sufficiency. The Brothers of Italy are also pro-NATO and supportive of sanctions against Russia. The PD (centre-left) is calling for a price cap on bills.
Che sarà sarà? What will be, will be
The EU will probably ‘wait and see’ how Meloni governs. There may be a reluctance to do anything in the short to medium term, as witnessed in Hungary. Here Victor Orban’s government were able to enact a raft of illiberal laws before the EU decided to take action and threaten to impose sanctions.
There has been much apathy in Italy, with many choosing not to vote. Italians are very philosophical about politics. The consensus seems to suggest that if and when Meloni and the far right bloc gain power and have to actually govern, this is when they will begin to fracture and lose power. While the right-wing coalition has much in common there are some key policy differences that will likely put an early strain on the coalition. While Meloni is very supportive of sanctions against Putin and Russia, her coalition partners Salvini and Berlusconi are not. Infighting is inevitable and the smart money is already suggesting the coalition may not last 6 months. The current prime minister, Mario Draghi, who lives in our small town of Città Della Pieve , has probably been told by independent President Mattarella – the person who invites leaders to form a government – to be on standby.
After a morning coffee, a Scots closing perspective
My husband was always going to vote PD and so he did this morning for both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. His own view is that there has been a slightly hysterical reaction to a likely far right coalition victory, particularly from abroad. As is the case in most European countries, moderate and left-leaning progressives are in the majority in Italy. Unfortunately, political egos and personalities on the left meant that a super left bloc could not be formed to fight this election. If it had it would have likely won. A number of the smaller left-leaning parties are now unlikely to make the voter threshold to gain seats.
How right Italy is likely to go is more shades of grey than black and white. While Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy do have despicable fascist roots, their policy platform seems to be socially conservative yet economically interventionist. Moreover, the political egos of the left are mirrored on the right and this, coupled with major policy differences on Ukraine and Italy’s relationship with Russia, is likely to ensure that any right-wing coalition may not survive for too long.